Boxing clever to bring community together

September 01 2014

IT’S hard to believe that this dilapidated building was once the beating heart of the community.

craig turner

IT’S hard to believe that this dilapidated building was once the beating heart of the community.

In its heyday Oldbury Court Community Centre was a Mecca for residents, old and young alike. Now, like many other community centres across the country, the recession has taken its toll and it stands empty and neglected.

But, if one Mangotsfield man has his way, the centre will be brought back to life, ready to play a vital role in community life once again.

Boxing coach and former policeman Craig Turner knows the building like the back of his hand. He spent many an evening and weekend there in the early 1990s when it was home to Downend Amateur Boxing Club.

But the basement area the club was allocated at the time was just too small to cater for the expanding number of youngsters it attracted.

The club, which currently has around 120 members, has since had several moves before finding themselves at their current home at Pomphrey Hill Sports Pavilion in Mangotsfield.

But again they have outgrown their premises and want somewhere bigger.

A move back to Oldbury Court Community Centre would be perfect. Craig and his committee of 14 volunteers who run the boxing club have a clear vision - the building would house the club, leaving plenty of space for other community uses. Already there is talk of a café, meeting room, advice centre, drop-in health clinic and employment opportunities for local people. There’s just one problem, the building needs £300,000 spent on it to bring it up to scratch.

“Downend Amateur Boxing Club had some great tournaments there and would get 400 people turning up to watch. It was very successful,” said 42-year-old Craig.

“We outgrew the basement and moved on. In the end the community centre became redundant and ended up badly vandalised and open to the elements. It was in a shocking mess and was basically ready for demolition.”

It’s a problem which would have put most people off. But Craig is made of sterner stuff.

“When members of the club saw how badly it had deteriorated for the first time, it really upset us because it was once such a thriving and very well loved facility. We decided to take the bull by the horns and try to regenerate the centre with the boxing club at its heart.

“Numerous ideas have been discussed including boxercise classes, advice centre for unemployment, an NHS drop-in centre. There’s limitless possibilities in and around a state-of-the-art boxing gym to house the successful club we’ve got at the moment.

“Oldbury Court has pockets of deprivation and has a racially diverse community so there’s a wonderful mix of people that can come together with one common goal. Everyone can make use of the building, even if they have no interest in boxing. 

“All this is subject to us gaining funding but it looks very favourable due to public support. We have the support of Bristol mayor George Ferguson, MPs Charlotte Leslie and Kerry McCarthy, so it looks pretty good. There is also a petition in support of the plans signed by 700 residents.

“No one’s on a wage from this - we’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do. There’s no way we would be pushing this hard if we weren’t sure we would have something very valuable to the community at the end of it.”

Craig started Downend ABC as part of a police community outreach programme when he was a member of  Avon and Somerset Police. However his career in the force came to an end after he broke his neck while investigating reports of vandalism at a derelict pub. Thankfully Craig was able to continue his work with the club.

It’s likely to take at least 18 months before the Downend ABC can move in the main hall, with phases two and three following. It will be run as a not-for-profit organisation with every penny made ploughed back into the club.

The project has benefited from invaluable legal advice from Craig’s wife Jo, a solicitor at Wards. 

“She works tirelessly with me on this project. The hours of expertise she brings in terms of legalities is phenomenal. She doesn’t make a bad cup of tea either!”

Already members the world of boxing have thrown their weight behind the plans and work to clear the site and to make it water-tight have already got off the ground. Catching wind of the plans, businessmen, not just in Bristol, but across the country, have offered their services and time. It really is testament to how well thought of Downend ABC, and indeed the man behind it - Craig Turner - really are.

Perhaps it’s because they understand what drives Craig. Throughout his career he has seen how boxing can transform the lives of young people.

“Boxing appeals to the most at risk young people,” said Craig.

“They’re a risk of offending, of negative street influences and of anti-social behaviour. It’s got that tough guy image and that’s the hook, if you’ll excuse the pun, to bring them into the gym. Once they are there we can work on transferable life-skills with them.

“We have a very strong anti-social behaviour prevention agenda to stop kids offending. It’s done in the boxing gym through respect, discipline and healthy lifestyle. It happened with me. If it wasn’t for boxing I could have easily gone the wrong way. 

“I must have coached thousands of young people since I started coaching in 1988 and I’ve seen an awful lot of of young people make good and that includes former drug and alcohol dependents and repeat offenders. We don’t create; we discover and uncover qualities that the kids have got.”

The club is now working with England Boxing Club’s support officer for the South West, Ben Sears, and in partnership with police community clubs and Bristol City Council to present a case to Sport England for funding. They have already arranged a temporary lease of the building from the council but now plan to negotiate a permanent full-time lease.

The battle may have just begun, but Craig and his committee intend to put up the fight of their lives.

“The building was built by volunteer men in the community who gave up their weekends back in the late ‘50s,” said Craig.

“Their names are still listed on the wall within the centre and we are absolutely determined to continue their legacy for the next generation.”

See pages 16-17 to find out about Craig’s charity walk for Diabetes UK