How this community focused Sheffield boxing club is giving people a fighting chance in life
A boxing centre in a troubled Sheffield neighbourhood is working to deter crime and help people make positive life changes by engaging them in fitness and healthy activity.
De Hood Boxing Centre and Community Hub, located inside a former primary school on the Manor Estate in Sheffield, is helping divert young lives away from crime, drugs and anti-social behaviour.
Members take part in a regular programme of boxercise, running and skipping as well as bench and bag work, during which they learn other useful social and employability skills.
The registered charity was established in 2012 by Reagan Denton after witnessing for himself the negative behaviours in which teenagers were involved on the Manor estate in Sheffield, where he lives.
“I saw them throwing stones and vandalising cars and challenged them to work with me to set up a boxing centre in a social club, and it just grew from there. We moved into the Old Prince Edward Primary School in 2015, and since then, we now attract over 400 kids a week to what we provide here”, he said.
“What I think is underestimated is that in coming into a place like this where they have to behave properly, show respect for others and learn self-discipline, it completely changes their mindset and attitude.
“We have a strict policy of no drugs, no weapons, no swearing and no discrimination against anyone. Everyone is treated the same regardless of their past,” says Reagan, who was given a BBC Community Champions Award in 2019 for his health promotion work in the area.
“These are worrying times because young people out on the streets are vulnerable to becoming groomed into the street-based drugs trade by organised crime gangs who prey on youngsters and enforce their rules with guns and knives.
“We want to be part of the solution because if you’re not, you are part of the problem”, he adds.
Reagan sees De Hood as the tool that can help drastically improve the social and physical environment in the area where he lives.
He says the residents of The Manor and the surrounding areas are amongst the friendliest and empathic people in the country - but in too many cases, they were never given the opportunity to use their natural talent and ability.
Within just a few weeks of starting up his project, crime on the Manor dropped by 37 per cent and fires in the area reduced by half.
Today, the project has the backing of Sheffield Council, the local police & crime commissioner and the newly formed South Yorkshire Violence Reduction Unit.
South Yorkshire’s new chief constable, Lauren Poultney, visited the centre in recent weeks to hear how the engagement of children and young people in sport, boxing, fitness and healthy activity acts as a powerful tool in addressing some of the issues facing young people in Sheffield.
She was accompanied by Angela Greenwood of the South Yorkshire Violence Reduction Unit, The South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings and Sheffield City Council Leader, Terry Fox.
They saw first-hand how De Hood works with children as young as six to teenagers and adults as old as 86.
The centre has 20 local volunteers who support the club with coaching, cleaning, reception, administration and fundraising.
The team behind the club are hoping to acquire the building so that it can be improved and re-developed to better suit the needs of the community.
Council Leader Terry Fox, who has been associated with the club since its infancy, said: “It’s a fantastic piece of our community and a real cog with backing from a number of organisations.
“First it was exercise, then it was schooling, and now we’re seeing drug and alcohol teams working with people from the community, so it’s an absolutely all-round facility.
“This is organic, it’s grown from the community for the community, and there’s a lot of input by hardworking volunteers, but it actually engages people to come in and develop skills that sometimes they didn’t know they had, so it’s just an absolutely welcoming place for people to come.
He added: “I’m the local councillor for the manor castle ward, and we had a few funds, so we were able in the initial stage to work with Laura and Reagan and support them with small donations just to get started.
“Once they got a foot in, they were off and flying, and we’ve seen the enthusiasm of all the people who work with the club. We’re working now to secure the building and the site with a developer and De Hood. It’s been a long road, but hopefully we’re on the final hurdles now to get this deal done for them.”
One person who has benefited from his time at the club is 60-year-old Mark Caterer, who says he would not be alive today without the support of all involved at De Hood.
Mark said: “When I first started in 2017, I was 46 stone, my life was going downhill, I’ve got osteoarthritis in my knees, so I was struggling to walk. My doctor told me that if I didn’t join a gym and get some weight off, I wouldn’t be here much longer. I knew Reagan and saw how good he was doing up here, so I came up, and Reagan embraced me. He said Mark, just come and train, we’ll put you on a programme that’s nice and steady. From that, I lost 15 stone.
“It’s unbelievable here with the comradeship, people and the friendship which this place projects, everybody is happy with the place. It’s just unbelievable what Reagan and Laura have achieved for people like me.
“If it wasn’t for this place, I wouldn’t be here. Before the lockdown, I was coming three or four days a week, and the weight was dropping off me. I’ve got grandkids, and it used to break my heart when I couldn’t get out in the car and go and do things with them. I just thought to myself, I’ve got to do it, but everyone here has helped me tremendously. I can’t thank Reagan and Laura enough. They’re lovely people.”
De Hood has 28 young and talented boxers ‘carded’ with England Boxing.
They have already taken part in amateur competitions in Leicester, Doncaster, Barnsley and Hull, and a successful future in the ring.
The boxing club also has heroes outside of the ring, and one member recently pulled a man to safety from a 15m high bridge.
Andrew Waite, 39, from Treeton near Rotherham, saved the man from jumping off the bridge over the Mosborough bypass after he stopped with his 15-year-old daughter Rhianna on the way home from a session at the De Hood gym.
“We have plenty of heroes in and out of the ring, but this bravery was exceptional and selfless, said Reagan.”
“He could’ve just carried on driving home, but instead, he turned around and began talking to the man who was dangling on the outer ledge of the bridge ready to jump off and just grabbed his shoulder bag, pulling him to safety, and that was amazing”, Reagan added.
Chief constable Poultney spoke with Andrew and praised his ‘quick-witted’ actions, and he was also congratulated by the dozens of people who attend the gym.