Youth club helping beat antisocial behaviour in Doncaster village

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Three years ago, it was so notorious that special new powers were brought in to try to deal anti-social behaviour there.

Hexthorpe was seen as a problem because of tensions within the community, which led to the introduction of Doncaster's first public space protection order, banning people from congregate in groups of three or more.

Maheen Ahmad, ten, Kian Hamilton, ten, pictured with others in the Springboard Youth Club. Picture: Marie Caley

Maheen Ahmad, ten, Kian Hamilton, ten, pictured with others in the Springboard Youth Club. Picture: Marie Caley

Fly tipping was seen as a problem, as well as fighting on the streets.

But it was not just the police and the council that wanted to do something about it.

Read more: Crime reports in troubled Doncaster village slashed
Paul Harrison, a Doncaster school site manager, was also concerned.

He had been doing voluntary work in Hexthorpe for 20 years, working with the well known Doncaster boxing coach, Ken Blood, for 20 years to coach youngsters in the sport, until Ken's death in 2014.

Coaches Paul Harrison, Rob Harper and Sam Foster, pictured with members of the Doncaster Plant Works Amateur Boxing Club. Picture: Marie Caley

Coaches Paul Harrison, Rob Harper and Sam Foster, pictured with members of the Doncaster Plant Works Amateur Boxing Club. Picture: Marie Caley

Read more: Doncaster police given new powers to tackle tensions
He kept the club going after Ken's death, but hit problems two years ago when the club had to leave its former base near the railway works in Hexthorpe.

Read more: Boxing coach Ken Blood loses fight with illness
But he refused to let the club fold - and after working with deputy mayor Glyn Jones and MP Rosie Winterton, managed to secure a former school building in the village.

The Springboard Centre, on Shadyside, had closed as a pupil referral unit and was lying empty.

Paul was keen to secure it, and was given a 10 year lease from the council.

He said: "The old Plantworks boxing club was based in Hexthorpe, and that was what inspired me to get involved. I used to read every week about crime or car fires in Hexthorpe. I wanted to do something to help pull people together."

Initially, Paul set up the boxing club in the building.

He installed a boxing ring in a former classroom. Around it, pictures from the history of the Plantworks boxing club line the walls. And a portrait of Ken Blood, and his MBE, watches over the ring.

Grants from Sport England helped him. They allowed him to fit out a punch bag room, and create state of the art changing rooms for both boys and girls. He has also put together a fitness gym, using equipment donated by parents.

Initially, he was just running the boxing club.

But he was paying a subscription to Boys and Girls Clubs South Yorkshire, which he had taken out to allow the club to take part in boxing competitions. He then discovered that his subscription also meant he could access youth workers.

So last year, he decided to expand to open a youth club. Boys and Girls Clubs South Yorkshire stepped in to provide youth workers, and the community has since rallied to help.

South Yorkshire Police provided a grant to pay for more activities.

And a generous local business has also got involved. The firm, which has asked Paul not to name it, is refurbishing the youth club part of the building, providing new furniture, new fittings and a new kitchen. They want to set up a long term relationship with the club.

Now that the youth club section is open, as many as 88 youngsters have attended on its busiest nights, from all backgrounds. Similarly, the boxing club now has people from many different backgrounds. Although the boxing club and the youth club are based in the same building, they are run as separate organisations.

"We've got a real cross section at the youth club," said Paul. "There are activities including basketball, pool, art, football, There are people plaiting hair and doing nails, and we've even started gardening. They have planted herbs and marigolds to keep cats out.

"My day job is as a school site manager. It means I'm used two working with boys and girls of all sorts, and I now how to run a building - it's what I've been doing for 25 years.

"We have all children, black, white, Slovak, all together, and they go home after a good night at the club, and its safe. At the moment it's on Wednesday nights, but I'd like to arrange something for Fridays too.

He feel they are getting to know each other and barriers are breaking down.

There is more Paul would like to see happening, He is planning talks to get an art teacher to teach clay modelling. He also wants to bring in a sort of cinema, allowing films to be shown at the club.

There are also events going on over the schools summer holidays at the club, with youngsters from all over Doncaster able to take part.

Later in the year he hopes to send youngsters out on a litter pick around older people's homes in the village. He hopes that will have two benefits - teaching the youngsters to keep the streets tidy, and potentially engaging with the older people, with a hope that they may be interested in becoming involved with the centre as volunteers.

And there is a funding bid in the pipeline for money to employ teachers to teach maths and English to youngsters for an hour in an evening at the boxing club - an environment which Paul feels some youngster may feel more comfortable about learning in.

He is keen for all organisation in the village to use the building, as long as their activities do not need to be subsidised by the youth club or the boxing club.

He feels the club is helping broaden horizons as well as occupy the youngsters.

Recently, the club took a bus load of youngsters from Hexthorpe to London for the day. "They saw the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and the Olympic Park. The bus was provided by the Boys and Girls Clubs South Yorkshire, with the youngsters asked to contribute to the fuel.For many of them it was the first time they had been to London."