Salvation Army’s boxing classes prove hit in York

published on 12 Apr 2024

Boxing sessions run by The Salvation Army in York are proving such a hit that more classes are being added to meet demand.  

Charlie Malarkey, service manager at the church and charity’s York Early Intervention and Prevention Outreach Service, initially started running boxing and exercise classes as part of The Salvation Army’s work to support people who are homeless, however the free sessions are now open to anyone who wants to attend.

Classes are held on Tuesdays between 10am to 12pm and Thursday 1pm to 2.15pm with women’s only classes held on Tuesday evenings at 6pm. The sessions, which are supported by Chocolate and Co, a local not for profit organisation and café that helps vulnerable people get into work, are packing such a punch that an extra women’s only session has been added on a Thursday at 2.30pm at York Masters Boxing Gym in Redeness Street. 

One participant at the women’s only session, Abbie, 28, who until recently had been homeless on and off for 10 years and now works at Chocolate and Co, said: “I first came a couple of weeks ago and I absolutely love it. I’ve never had a hobby in my life but I love this, it’s mint. It’s so good!


“I like the fact it’s a women’s group, and they push you, but you can do it at your own pace. There’s no judgement. I’m unfit and haven’t done exercise for a long time, but coming here it makes me want to get fit. I feel so much better in myself, I’m eating better and I’ve even taken up running. I could never have imagined doing that but I want to get fit so I can get better at boxing and take part in a charity match. 

“It’s the first time since I was 15 that I’ve done something normal and had a hobby because I’ve struggled with addiction. I’m setting goals for myself for the first time. 

“Charlie is mint. I have known him for years because he has helped me get into housing before so I have a good relationship with him. We have a joke and a laugh, and he pushes you but in a good way. I wouldn’t be here doing this if it wasn’t for Charlie.”

Another participant Marnie, 48, said she came to boxing to help with her confidence. 

She said: “I got sick of being frightened of life and I wanted to do new things to help with my own mental health. I have been coming about six weeks. Physically and mentally it’s helping me. This is the first time I’ve come to the women’s only group but I come to mixed sessions during the day where you get a cross section of people. 

“It’s nice to be a part of it as everyone is supportive. At normal gyms it can feel a bit intimidating, but here it’s doesn’t matter what you look like and everyone encourages you, so I like that about it.” 


Charlie said the classes are open to anyone and they have lots of people who are homeless, who are overcoming substance abuse issues, refugees and asylum seekers and students. 

He said: “As soon as people walk through that door they are treated equally, it doesn’t matter what their background is. I can’t tell you how good it’s been for improving people’s mental and physical health. Watching people’s confidence improve with each session is fantastic.

“People go at their own pace. There’s a lot of work with the punchbags, but it’s also about improving general fitness so there’s different activities to get the heart rate up. For those who want to go that bit further and fight in the ring we can provide training for that. There’s a few who want to train up for charity matches in the summer. 

“There are people who are struggling, their housing situation may be tricky or they are battling an addiction. Being in this environment gives me the chance to get to know them and find out what else we can do to support them. This is all part of The Salvation Army’s outreach work in the community.

“People have told me they like the atmosphere here, everyone gets along and it’s not intimidating. We have a laugh and joke with each other. I love to hear from people like Abbie who say these sessions have given them a sense of purpose. That is why we do it, it’s to help people and that’s what I’m passionate about.” 

As well as the boxing and exercise classes, The Salvation Army continues to run its drop-in service from Lawrence Street on a Monday to Friday between 10am and 2pm where people who are homeless can sit in a warm space, get food and drink, clothing and signposting to various services in the city. 


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