Reagan Denton has come a long way since his troubled youth.
Born and raised on the Manor, Reagan was a self-confessed ‘bad lad’ who dreamed of a career as a professional boxer.
And he had promise. He was training hard, mixing with the likes of Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson and was even being tipped to be the ‘next Naz.’ The world was looking bright for the kids from the streets, but a cocktail of fast cars and ‘too many of the wrong kinds of friends’ were to be his downfall, leading him down the wrong path, into drugs and - eventually - a two-and-a-half year prison sentence.
It was the wake-up call he needed, and the Sheffield boxer used the time to keep fit and focus on his release, determined to work hard and earn back everything he’d lost.
But then everything changed.
“I was completely focused on my comeback,” confirms Reagan.
Local crime dropped by 37 per cent and fires in the area halved within weeksReagan Denton
“I was back in the ring and things were going well, there was even a title fight on the table. But as I was stood at the window of my home one day, back in the Manor, I saw bored ten-year-old lads throwing dog waste at a single mum who was walking by and something clicked in me. I knew I had to change things. This place was in a bad pattern and these kids that I could see from my window were heading the same way as me. I decided then and there it was time to start looking after my neighbourhood.”
The dad-of-two went to chat to the kids and invited them to come and try some boxing with him. He strung up a couple of punch bags in a local social club and six youths started coming to see him regularly.
“Boxing had been a big discipline for me,” says Reagan, aged 37.
“It’s all about clean eating, no smoking, no late nights, keeping yourself in good shape, having respect for the people you’re working with. I started working with a handful of kids, teaching them what I know, instilling good old-fashioned values in them, and it just grew from there.”
That was in 2012. Four years on and Reagan’s community gym - which he named ‘De Hood’ - now has 380 local members and is based in the former Prince Edwards School, of which Reagan’s organisation is now caretaker. It’s open six days a week, ten hours a day and members wear a hoodie - sponsored by City Taxis - which Reagan says brings a sense of belonging and identity to the Manor’s youth.
And the gym’s effects on the community have been marked.
Reagan says: “Crime dropped by 37 per cent within just a few weeks of us starting this project and fires in the area reduced by half. We’ve been visited by the fire service, police and local MPs who are all amazed by what we’re achieving here. We have Russian kids, Somali, Bangladeshi, Slovakian and Pakistani kids at the club - talk about integration, we’re leading the way.
“Did you know we’ve got the most single parents in the UK here on the Manor? The mums do a great job, but there are hardly any fathers around to help parent these kids, so I feel it’s up to me and my team of brilliant volunteers to be positive male role models to these young people. After all, I’m an older version of them so I can talk honestly to them about all my mistakes.”
And with schools out for summer, Reagan has turned his attention to local kids’ diets, which he says take a real downturn in the holidays.
“We weigh all the kids, as part of their boxing training,” he says.
“And it’s not unusual for many of them to lose as much as half a stone in the summer, because they’re missing out on their free hot school lunch.”
So this summer, Reagan has taken matters into his own hands. He approached his local Asda and Morrisons who agreed to supply him with food for the gym’s kitchen, which he uses to make a daily meal for the kids who attend a session.
Reagan says: “Myself and the volunteers, including my fiance Laura, prepare all the food with the kids, so we know they’re at least getting one good meal a day.
“I also cook lunch for a handful of the lads on a Sunday and we have volunteers like Old Man Tony, who makes orange chocolate cake for the boxing club every week, so we’re doing what we can. I also organise a ‘butty run’ on a Saturday where I take a bunch of kids out for a run, then buy them breakfast afterwards. I couldn’t believe that some of these kids had never been to a café before.
“And what’s great to see is that the kids respond to that care and give back, helping elderly people out in the local community and taking part in sponsored events for charity - I’m proud of them.”
“De Hood is the people’s brand,” explains Reagan.
“We recognised kids wanted to feel connected to something – to the neighbouhood, to each other – and kids tell us they feel safer wearing De Hood hoodies. Having those logos on their tops may seem like a small thing, but our kids feel someone cares about them and they are part of something. We’re also working with school and college classes now, instilling those old-fashioned values, getting them active and boosting concentration levels. I’m always on the lookout for volunteers to help me carry on the work De Hood is doing.”
Visit De Hood for details or call Reagan on 07791 620020 if you’re interested in getting involved as a volunteer.