Teen says Salvation Army boxing classes helped save his life

published on 27 Jun 2024


A teenager who was told he was a ‘lost cause’ has spoken about how boxing classes held by The Salvation Army in York have helped him turn his life around. 

Struggling with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts after a difficult childhood, Curtis, 19, often turned to violence and was told he would end up in prison at 16. 

But he started going to boxing classes run by Charlie Malarkey, service manager at The Salvation Army’s Early Intervention and Prevention team, and credits them with saving his life.

The classes, held at York Masters Boxing Gym in Redeness Street, initially started 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.

Curtis said: “Due to things that happened in my past, I would end up taking that out on other people, fighting every day, drinking, hanging out with the wrong crowds. I could be sat one minute feeling okay and then it’s like a switch, someone could say something and that was perceived as a threat, a challenge, with violence a way to prove myself. 

“At 16 I got some counselling sessions and they put me in touch with Charlie. Boxing became an outlet for my anger and something to focus on. 


“To say the boxing classes helped me is an understatement. If it wasn’t for boxing, I would have gone to prison. Boxing helped me drop the people who were not good for me, I started going to church and finding new friends. It’s given me a community.

“The first time I walked into a gym, I was terrified, but with the boxing classes, I’ve never been judged. There’s always someone to talk to. I can do the workout and if I have a problem, I can go to Charlie or the team and they help me.

“I thought I was a lost cause, but Charlie showed me there is another way and I have the ability to change. The classes have helped me see I don’t need to use violence to prove myself. The bigger person can walk away from a situation. I showed people around me that I could change and now others say to me ‘if you can do it, I can do it’. 

“I am going to play in a charity boxing match which has led to me becoming more focused. I run as much as possible now because I have something to work towards and I’m eating better. 

“Now Charlie is helping to train me up to become a trainer and get some qualifications. I want to help other kids get out of the situation that I was in. It’s the greatest thing we can do for them, give them a punchbag to hit for an hour, give them some training and help them feel better. Every time I leave the gym I feel so much better and I want others to feel like that. It’s not an understatement to say it saved my life.” 

Charlie said the transformation he has seen in Curtis has been fantastic. 

He said: “Curtis is a great success story and now wants to help others as he knows how beneficial the boxing has been for him. 

“The sessions are about improving physical and mental health as well as people’s confidence. We have a lot of clients who are, or have been homeless, people struggling with mental health and addictions. We try to create an environment that feels safe, that offers people a bit of break from the outside world and that gives them chance to have a laugh or to talk if they need to. To see their confidence grow, you can’t beat it.” 

Curtis is one of a number of clients taking part in a charity boxing match on Sunday 30 June to raise funds for a new gym at the Earswick Sports Club in York. The intention is for The Salvation Army’s boxing classes to move there when it opens. 

Classes, which are supported by Chocolate and Co, a local not for profit organisation and café that helps vulnerable people get into work, 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 and Thursdays at 2.30pm. 

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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