It’s now almost a year since the riots of last summer. Who could forget the images of destruction in the Stokes Croft area and images of burning buildings in Croyden? Since then the political class has been franticly asking why it all happened, and what we can do to prevent a recurrence.
Of course, there are multiple factors at work here, but recurring themes are that the rioters felt they had little to lose; material goods were a crucial part of having an identity, in other cases gang-culture was the only identity on offer, and that there would be few consequences to their actions. And in a world where they felt they could achieve little positive, achieving something negative became a goal.
In terms of looking at what we can do about it, the political class could do worse than start with looking at what is proven to work in preventing this kind of behaviour: and a startling example of this is in our grass roots sports clubs – an in particular, in our boxing clubs.
Here is a striking fact, of the boxing clubs based in riot areas, full of young people who by their own admission would be very prone to rioting, or perhaps once were the kids instigating that sort of behaviour, not one of them was involved in the riots in summer 2011. There’s seldom such a thing as a silver bullet in politics, but the effect of boxing clubs on preventing energetic, angry young people from rioting, is as close as you’ll get.
And if you go to your local club and see what actually goes on in there, it is not so surprising that boxing works: It provides a sense of self-esteem, self-discipline, an outlet for energy, and crucially a strong sense of positive identity and pride. The male role-models in the gyms, many of whom have been through what some of the kids have been through in terms of traumatic family background and difficult social choices, are sometimes the first constructive male role-models in these young people’s lives. For many young people, it is the first time they have been in an environment where they’ve seen hard work and effort result in success and positive results. And as for peer pressure – boxing provides a positive peer pressure in the gym to make more of yourself and succeed, to combat the negative peer pressure that encouraged kids to riot last summer.
Last week, I organized a debate, “Boxing; I prevent a riot”, in conjunction with Channel 4’s launch of its documentary “Glory Road” about the journey of three Liverpool boxers in their quest to represent Great Britain at the Olympics. The aim of the debate was to highlight to Home Office Ministers the powerful effects of boxing in preventing scenes we saw last summer. We heard from Natasha Jonas, our fantastic female Olympic hopeful, as well as lads from Fitzroy Lodge boxing gym, right in the heart of the riots areas.
One young man, who admitted to being a trouble-maker previously, summed up why boxing works. He said: “Before, I used to get up and everything I wanted to do was about destruction. Now, I get up and everything in my life is about success – how to succeed, make myself better, do better. Being a success is my life now.” And that was not just in boxing, but in school, relationships – everything.
Here in Bristol, clubs like Avonmouth National Smelters ABC, Empire and Riverside Youth Project do fantastic work, and I was delighted that Avonmouth National Smelters Club and Empire were able to come to the debate and wave the Bristol flag. So my message to policy makers; if we want to tackle behaviour that leads to rioting, let’s look at what’s already working, and support it; I was really encouraged by the Home Office Minister of State – Nick Herbert MP’s reaction to the debate, and the fact he was so keen to come along and attend. But in the silo’d world of politics, getting something like sport recognized by ‘another’ department like the Home Office can be less straightforward than it should be.
I’m chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Boxing, and over the coming months and years, I’m going to continue to keep jabbing away to get the support for boxing that it deserves – because it does not just help the kids in the gyms, but it can break intergenerational cycles of despair, worklessness and substance abuse, and can help our entire communities. The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that Boxing really can prevent a riot.
A big congratulations to Chris Brown as Bristol24-7 – already the best site in the South West – has been nominated as one of the best local news websites in the UK. Proving once again that Bristol really is at the forefront of digital creative media in the country!