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Fighting homelessness through boxing: former world champion Johnny Nelson supports free classes for Manchester homeless


Two local fitness and boxing trainers have embarked on a mission to help improve the lives of Manchester’s homeless.

Adam Taylor and Josh Lakner-Cook are offering free boxing and fitness classes to homeless people and anyone facing homelessness in Manchester to improve their physical and mental well-being.

Adam says he might not be alive today if it wasn’t for the contact sport.

“I owe my life to my son, my partner and boxing. Everything I do is to show my son a better way of life than I started off with and that you can achieve anything you want to if you work hard and believe in what you’re doing

“I believe that boxing is fantastic for your mental health – the approach you have to your new partners, your coach, the bond that you make. It changes lives. It changed my life undoubtedly.

“When I was homeless there was no help for me. I got very little support,” he says.

I was using drug and alcohol services and I don’t know if I’d be dead yet or not but things were pretty bad for me before I found Fighting Fit. They helped to guide me and get me through. I owe them a lot. They showed me a better way of life.”

And he believes training on the pads with someone can be a form of therapy itself.

“When you’re on the pads, rather than being in a therapy session where you’re sat talking to somebody – which is quite difficult – you get talking on the pads and people open up to you and you’re able to help them that way.

“I believe that boxing can do that and what we’re trying to do is prove it. If we can improve people’s mental health, then hopefully we can improve the homelessness situation.”

Adam and Josh reached out to the University of Manchester because they believe the classes will help support both physical and mental health – and wanted the professional help of the university for the mental health side of the project.

“I contacted the University of Manchester because I thought they might be able to help – and Dr Amy Blakemore has helped us all the way through it and has been amazing. We’ve worked together on everything and we’ve become very close friends as well.”

Everyone who takes part in the weekly boxing sessions is invited to have lunch at the centre before the class begins, with t-shirts, refreshments and goodie bags given to all guests.

The bags include some essential items for anyone who is homeless or sleeping rough – including a water bottle, socks, toothpaste and a toothbrush, a flannel, deodorant, hand sanitiser, snacks and fruit.

We visited the Booth Centre for the first event and saw first hand the support being offered and how well it was received by the centre’s homeless users.

Former professional boxing champion Johnny Nelson made a guest appearance – there will be a different guest every week – and gave an inspirational talk to the class.

“When things weren’t good for me or I couldn’t think right or was upset, I’d be in the gym.” said Johnny.

“Doing my footwork, doing the round and working on the bags – to clear my mind and think ‘I’m worth something’ – because if you don’t think you’re worth anything, trust me you won’t do jack shit.

“It starts here – where you think to yourself ‘right, I can do it’ – and you believe in yourself – because if you don’t believe in yourself how can you expect anybody else to.

“And that’s what boxing did for me. If I didn’t find boxing I’d have ended up in prison or dead. I’ve got several friends – one is doing 18 years, another has just done 16 years and another doing 12 years – and we all started boxing together. But they chose a different path.”

26-year-old Ben Craig told us that the boxing classes are something he can look forward to each week and help take his mind off being homeless.

“The boxing class was really good, Josh and the rest of the trainers are all great,” says Ben.

“It’s something for me to look forward to. I did a bit of boxing from age 16 to 18 – and I’ve always wanted to get back into it. And it’s helped me make some new friends as well.

“The Booth Centre is a great place for homeless people – they provide food, shelter and showers for the homeless – but to come here for boxing classes is great for fitness and something to take my mind off being homeless really.”

The boxing classes take place at the Booth Centre, Pimblett Street, M3 1ET on Mondays at 12.30pm.

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