In the first of a new series of features, sports editor Mike Parsons goes behind the scenes to find out what Phoenix Fire Boxing Club are all about

AS I walk through the door there’s activity everywhere I look.

Children, as young as five, are on all fours completing exercises on the canvas of the two boxing rings in the gym at the rear of Warrington Fire Station.

Others are gloved-up and learning new skills, while older youngsters are warming up for their session.

Parents are keenly watching from the sides and upstairs gallery, while there’s a stream of coaches handing out advice and lessons.

There’s a great vibe to this place, now in its 28th year of a journey that started with an initial base at the former Longford Hotel, then Dallam Shops and Beamont High School before settling into an ‘absolutely fantastic partnership’ with the Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service.

“We’re all about the community,” says head coach Damian Ridpath.

“We have a whole mix of kids who come here, starting at five years old.

Warrington Guardian:

“Our oldest member is 83 so we literally cater from cradle to grave.

“We offer a whole range of services and training experiences for people, using boxing as the conduit to engage.

“We have over 420 members. Most of those members don’t compete in regular competition, around 50 of them do.

“We’re here for people to meet their individual needs.

“However, we do have a good elite programme with quite a few boxers who have reached national finals.

“We’ve had a national finalist every year for 12 years running.

“So we’re doing quite well at all levels but our main objective is to basically keep kids safe in a friendly training environment.

“There’s been thousands of young people come through the gym since we started.

“Now we get approximately 13,000 visits per year. Some people come once a week, some once a month, but some come six nights per week. It all depends on what their individual need is.”

When somebody walks through the door for the first time, there is a clear aim.

“To make sure they have fun and enjoy it, regardless of age,” says Great Sankey 44-year-old, Damian.

Warrington Guardian:

“It’s all about fun and engagement and if they develop and like the sport there is a pathway here for them to get better and produce.”

His eyes light up when asked about the feedback he receives from members.

“It’s a family,” he says. They all feel part of a wider family when they’re here. Some of the young people we engage with don’t have the most salubrious of backgrounds.

“They might not come from nice estates or whatever, but when they come here they feel a part of a family and it’s a family that exists forever. It’s a life-lasting legacy for them.”

Warrington Guardian:

DURING my two-hour experience with youngsters at Phoenix Fire Boxing Club they told of an inspirational place and people.

English champions Bayode Oluleye and Imad Nasseb are grateful for what the club, its coaches and fellow members continue to provide for them.

Bayode, 19, a university digital marketing student, says: “There’s a good atmosphere here between all the coaches and the boxers. It’s like a massive family.

Warrington Guardian:

“When we achieve stuff, like winning titles, going in the ABAs, winning fights, it’s not an individual feeling it’s a collective feeling.

“Boxing is an individual sport and it’s not easy going into the ring by yourself but when you know that you’ve got the whole team behind you and cheering you on it gets you through those nine minutes of work.”

When I ask if Imad, 19, would like to pay tribute to anyone at the club he says: “One of the coaches, Elliot Dillon.

“For the past couple of years, all of his hard work and time has been put into us and the other senior boxers who are getting more serious about the sport.

Warrington Guardian:

“He takes training with us early in a morning at 6am, every night as well. He takes us to a gym across town.

“He’s good as a mentor as well, as a teacher and as a friend. He helps us through everything.”

They both admitted to regularly being in trouble during their school days and shook their heads, then paused, when asked what they would be doing now if it wasn’t for their boxing.

“I don’t want to say,” Imad finally answers.

“Up to no good basically,” says Bayode.

Courtney Swanton, 18, has been with the club for eight years.

The ex-gymnast and footballer from Longford has fought in national finals, been called up to Great Britain camps and squared up with boxers who have competed for England.

“Being at this club has changed me as a person,” she says.

“When I was younger I was a bit of a trouble maker in school. I didn’t really settle down much.

Warrington Guardian:

“When I started in year seven I caught the boxing at Phoenix Fire. My friend asked me one night if I fancied going so I said I would give it a go.

“When I walked in I didn’t know anything about boxing – I just thought you hit people. There’s more to it than that.

“I did my first session and I loved it, it was brilliant. I’ve always been around sport but I found my heart in boxing.

“I like the coaches, the people you meet. It’s a community really, and I like it socially as well.

“Over the eight years it has had a big impact on my life. I class this place as a second home.

“I just want to inspire younger generations. To have them saying I could do that one day or be her one day. It’s an inspiring club.”

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