By Rachel Steinberg
Law enforcement and youth are often portrayed as challengers in an ongoing bout.
But a new Met project is using boxing lessons to fight misconceptions about the force and encourage teenagers to make positive choices.
Participants in the pilot Unite Boxing Project, led by Sergeant Chris Bright, learned about counter-punches and crime prevention over four weekly sessions.
The 19 students from The Charter School North Dulwich in Red Post Hill, Herne Hill, who stepped into the ring—many for the first time—reflected on their journey during a final lesson at Brixton’s Dwaynamics gym.
Coaches from Dwayamics and the Met ran through sparring and skipping drills before pro middleweight Germaine Brown, holding his latest championship belt, gave an inspiring pep talk.
For Angel Dilworth, 14, Unite was a knock-out success.
She said: “When you’re boxing you’re so focused on what you’re doing. You can’t think about everything that’s going on around you.
“It gives you that physical release when you’re mentally not okay.”
The Year 10 student believes social media has led to a negative perception of police among people her age.
She added: “Most stereotypes told me they were bad people who wanted to arrest us all.
“But once we got to talk to them a bit more we realised they’re not here to hurt us – they’re here to help us.”
Angel is one of 12 girls who decided to give boxing a go.
She said: “I definitely didn’t expect so many!
“Obviously most famous boxers are male.
“I’ve learned I have quite a bit of potential and it really does de-stress me. I’ll 100 per cent keep doing it.”
It’s exactly the outcome Sgt Bright was hoping for. The officer set up Unite following the success of a similar rugby-based initiative he launched a year ago.
He said: “It’s definitely delivering the right results.
“Young people have a complete misconception of what the police do.
“The majority will say we go around stopping kids for no reason.
“But we have to have a reason in law, we have to have a power to go and talk to them.
“I could just go in and talk but when you bring in sport it helps break down those barriers and we can discuss all those key areas so they get a better understanding.”
Unite’s interactive curriculum included a stop-and-search role-play in which the students were given a briefing and then stepped into Sgt Bright’s shoes.
He also emphasized the critical role of positive community spaces in preventing teens from joining gangs or engaging in crime.
Sgt Bright said: “Young people are telling me, ‘outside of school I don’t have anywhere to socialise. I have no focus in my life. I don’t really know what I want to do.’
“Here they’re getting to learn all the key values – teamwork, respect, sports-manship and all those key things they can carry into their everyday lives.”
Sgt Bright is in now getting 10 officers trained as coaches to allow Unite to expand to four bases across London. He said the project will eventually work with 700 students each year.
It was a police officer who helped Pastor Lorraine Jones realise her late son’s dream of opening a boxing gym.
Dwayne Simpson, pictured, was just 20 when he was stabbed through the chest on a Brixton estate in 2014 while trying to save a younger friend during a fight.
The third eldest of Ms Jones’ seven children was determined to make a positive difference in his neighbourhood.
So at 17, he applied for Lambeth council funding to launch Dwaynamics out of a small room at Angell Delight Community Centre.
Ms Jones said: “He started it out of desperation really.
“The community centres got closed down year after year because of gang warfare and he came to me and said, ‘mum, there’s nothing for us to do. That’s why they’re getting involved in gangs. They’re vulnerable. They’re just left out there. If I can get them healthy physically and mentally then they can focus on their future. Whatever it takes I’ll make it happen.’ ”
The first sessions drew 15-30 people and quickly outgrew the space, so Dwayne improvised by taking the lessons to a local park.
Ms Jones, pictured below with Sgt Chris Bright and some pupils, said: “He was the sparkle. The icing on the cake for the whole family. The one who had all the humour.
“He was a peacekeeper bringing unity to everyone. The police said at his funeral they saw members of four different gangs who all came.”
When Lambeth Borough Commander Richard Wood stopped by to pay his condolences he asked to see the gym.
Ms Jones said: “He told me, Pastor Lorraine, if you want to keep this going I’ll help you.”
Commander Wood helped Ms Jones secure Dwaynamics’ current site, a Loughborough Junction railway arch. For the first two years, the gym was able to remain rent-free.
Now Dwaynamics teaches more than 600 adults and children each year.
Sgt Bright said partnering with community clubs is a crucial component of Unite so students have somewhere to continue training once they’ve caught the boxing bug.
Ms Jones would be thrilled to see any of the 19 Unite boxers back at Dwaynamics.
She told them: “The most important thing is everyone who comes through these doors feels like they’re part of a family.”
Later, she added: “I can’t stop smiling. Every time they come in, I just smile. “Everything Dwayne set out to achieve is still happening.
“He would be so extremely proud.”
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