Monkstown Boxing Club is a real knockout, say Barry McGuigan
A boxing club that provides hundreds of disadvantaged youngsters with a lifeline has knocked out the opposition to win a UK-wide award.
Former boxing world champion Barry McGuigan yesterday surprised Monkstown Boxing Club, on the edge of north Belfast, with a National Lottery Award in recognition its BoxClever programme.
The scheme provides homework and breakfast clubs, sport-related work placements and coaching sessions for more than 100 young people from Monkstown, Rathcoole and surrounding areas each week.
It operates through schools and aims to reduce crime and improve youngsters' career prospects.
Club member Peter Lilie struggled to even leave the house two years ago, but with the help of the programme, he has overcome crippling social anxiety and now leads a normal life.
Others say that their success at school or university was down to the support they have received at the Newtownabbey-based facility.
The club got more than 7,000 votes to claim victory in the education project category in the National Lottery Awards.
It was awarded £2,000 and Barry presented members with a trophy to recognise their success.
They will also attend a star-studded awards ceremony in London in September.
Barry said: "Boxing appeals to hard-to-reach kids. This place can be like a second home and an extended family.
"It gives them stability and confidence and teaches them to apply themselves.
"We encourage them to invest time in their education so that they can become employable."
Project manager Paul Johnston added: "It's fantastic news for the whole community. It's a testimony to the impact the programme is making on young people's lives."
'It's like my second home'
Caitlin Power (17) is a student from Monkstown. She says:
"I've been coming here for years. It's like my second home and a massive family.
"Maths was a big no-go for me before, but I came in and asked if they could help, and I got a D in my GCSE. That felt really good."
'The club has had such a positive impact on me'
Bruno Gomes is a 17-year-old student from Monkstown. He says:
"They've given me a lot of opportunities since I started four years ago. They've helped me with school and helped me to get youth work qualifications. Paul's helped me with life problems as well.
"I'm not sure what life would be like if I didn't come here, but it would be very different. They've had such a positive impact on me.
"The award will boost our motivation and give us some recognition of what they are doing for the kids here."
‘It’s made a big difference and really changed my life’
Brian Harper (22) hopes that his experiences at Monkstown Boxing Club will one day help him become a youth worker or coach. He says:
I first came to the boxing club when I was 17 to train. They've helped me get qualifications. They've given me experience so I can go and do want I want to do.
I'd just be sitting in the house if I didn't come here. It's made a massive difference and has really changed my life.
'It helped to keep me focused on A-levels'
Daryl Clarke (18), from Carrickfergus, has been going to Monkstown for four-and-a-half years. He says:
"If I wasn't here, I'd probably be involved in anti-social behaviour and would be drinking.
"I come to the club to train but also to go to the homework club and use the computers. I just got my A-levels and if it wasn't for this to keep me focused, I probably wouldn't have done as well. I got an A* and two Bs so I'm going to Jordanstown to study business studies."