Boxing packs a punch against addiction in York

published on 12 Jun 2019


Boxing classes have been helping homeless York residents tackle the challenges that landed them on the streets – including the reduction of drug and alcohol intake for a number of people.

Charles Malarkey, who heads up The Salvation Army’s York Early Intervention and Prevention hub in the city, says offering the weekly boxing classes to all who use the drop-in service has seen transformative effects.

He said: “Our team supports people across York who are experiencing homelessness, helping them to address the obstacles and challenges that have put them on the streets. To ensure they don’t stay there, we provide tailored support and practical assistance. Most recently, this has included boxing classes run by support worker Tom Bowman and my son Liam who is a keen boxer.

“As a result of the classes, we’ve had people more willing to engage with the help on offer to them, finding it easier to chat to our team and other agencies in the gym’s informal setting. They have also enjoyed the challenges of getting fit, finding that sport improves their confidence and self-esteem. They also make new friends, learn something new and many who have been struggling with addiction have even reduced their drug and alcohol intake. One person has already cut his weed intake from £450 a month to £50, while others have given up smoking and cut down on alcohol.”

There has been increasing demand for more sessions and the staff team is looking for new funding streams. Of the 14 new boxers – many of whom have been heavy drug or alcohol users or struggled with severe mental health issues - four have reduced their drug and alcohol intake with another engaging with mental health and drug and alcohol services; others have improved their mental wellbeing; another has accessed work and is training others to box.

Charles said: “The Salvation Army wants people to find more than a roof over their head for the night – we want them to reach their full potential and achieve the goals they set for themselves. By offering meaningful activities, we are creating a sense of community and purpose. Using sports helps people feel better physically and mentally, too.”

People are referred to the club – which meets on a Tuesday and Wednesday – through York EIP. Each session is also open to the public and interested parties can contact Charles for more information.

Charles said: “The best part is that people come in at the same level – no one joins thinking they’re better than anybody else. We’re all there to learn and we just get stuck in and work hard.”

Keen rugby player Sam has been training with the club for a few weeks. He began his struggle with alcohol addiction when an injury meant he could no longer play the sport he loved. A series of family bereavements caused him to spiral further into addiction and he ended up homeless.

He said: “When the heavy drinking started I ignored everyone. I got rid of my phone as I didn’t want to talk to anyone. It was a lonely place, even though I thought I was enjoying it at the time – I didn’t realise I was heading down further and my drinking was getting more and more every day.

“I reached the point where I wouldn’t be able to see my family - I was losing everything and losing myself, too. I wanted to make a change. I kept seeing my life at 28, thinking ‘I don’t want to die before my thirties’. I want to live a longer life.”

Since attending boxing classes Sam has dramatically reduced his drinking from as much as 12 cans a day to just occasional drinks. Sam said: “Going to boxing classes turned my life around. It’s helped get my self-esteem up and my confidence back – I’ve even been going through job interviews, which I wouldn’t have been able to do a few weeks ago. Boxing has given me something to look forward to and an incentive. I feel healthier and see a lot clearer what I want to do and how to do it. With alcohol, you think you can do anything but when you wake up in the morning, it’s more a fantasy [of being able to do anything] than a reality.

“I’ve enjoyed meeting other people at training – learning that others who are in my situation can get better as well. It’s not just me in this situation and The Salvation Army is changing a few lives at a time and it all adds up. If I wasn’t for The Salvation Army, God knows where I’d be.”