When Terry McCorran set up the City of Belfast Boxing Academy in 2009, he wanted to do more than sports coaching. He wanted to help young people develop their skills and confidence.
The boxing club is located right on the peace wall between Bryson Street and the Short Strand in inner East Belfast. Community relations and cross-community work has been central to Terry’s work, with people travelling from all over the city to attend training, as well as from further field.
“We have Protestants and Catholics coming to train together, and people from Somalia, China and Iran,” said Terry. “There are people of twelve different nationalities all together.”
The club has produced champion boxers, including Fiona Nelson, who won both the Irish Novice Championships and the All-Ireland Senior Elite Championships. However boxing is just one strand of the club’s work.
Terry uses creative methods to get young people thinking about education and developing skills: “I always say that it’s not getting the gold that matters, but what you do after that. You need a sound education behind you.” He hopes to establish a homework club, and advocates an approach to education that recognises the wide range of talents and passions children bring. He explained, “People learn in different ways and at different stages. Coaches need to ask themselves, what can I do differently to help the kid learn? What makes them tick? For a coach, every day is a learning day.”
The club has also brought some unexpected benefits. Parents, when dropping their kids off to training, began to stick around and use the free gym facilities at the club. They also began to get to know each other – something they might not otherwise have had the chance to do given their diverse backgrounds.
Terry said: “People get talking to other people from different religions and nationalities. But there are also connections made across the socioeconomic divide. I think that’s a divide that’s getting bigger, and people who are better off often don’t realise how difficult it is for others – that many families genuinely struggle to get by. Being here opens up their eyes and ears. We had one parent donating a bag of nearly new clothes to anyone who needed them.”
Another of Terry’s aims is to run adult education courses at the club. For Terry, low self-esteem and multiple generations of families out of work can mean that children often don't have positive role models. That’s something that he hopes to change.
He said: “Kids think that just because they’re from this area with a bad reputation, they won’t amount to anything. But just because they live in this area doesn’t mean that they should give up hope, or write themselves off. We aim to give them the tools to be ambitious, confident and decide what they want for themselves.”
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