From gangs to gongs: How a boxer is using sport to turn young people away from crime

Updated: 26/02/2024

Stephen Addison will not have far to travel when he collects the British Empire Medal that he was awarded in the new year honours list in a ceremony at the Tower of London. From the house that he shares in east London with his parents and siblings, it’s a short walk to the Tube station, then a 30-minute ride on a District Line train to Tower Hill.

The journey will take him from Barking and Dagenham – one of the capital’s most deprived boroughs, where more than 30 per cent of workers earn less than the living wage – into the financial and historical heart of the city.

There, the Lord-Lieutenant, dressed in uniform and badges, will hand Mr Addison, a 28-year-old former gang member, a medal recognising the social enterprise that he founded to divert young people away from crime. Short the journey may be, but his personal odyssey from the streets of Barking to the Tower’s banqueting suite has been a little longer.

I meet Mr Addison in Dagenham at a single-storey sports centre he has leased from the council to turn into the headquarters of his boxing academy, Box Up Crime. The organisation works with more than 600 young people every week in schools, pupil referral units and community centres. Most live in Barking and Dagenham, but he is expanding to other London boroughs and to Switzerland, New York, and Los Angeles.

View this post on Instagram

A wise man eyes are in his head, while a fool walks in darkness. Ecclesiastes 2:14. #wordoftheday

A post shared by Stephen Addison BEM (@stephenaddison90) on Aug 19, 2018 at 2:40am PDT

The boxer has worked with more than 4,000 young people since Box Up Crime started in 2013, but this building is the first space he will run himself. “This is just for now,” he says, looking around. “Long term, we want to demolish this and build a three storey sports centre. The whole top floor will be a chill out room. I want to offer young people in 20 London boroughs free access to boxing and mentors.”

‘I don’t want to glorify the past'

Getting onto the streets, mixed up with crime and gangs, can happen to anyone. “I wasn’t the typical stereotype,” he says. “It wasn’t because I was a young, misguided kid with single mum, not even because I got told never to come back to school. It was because I was never good at anything in education. When it came to football, I was picked last. I was overweight, I never got anything right.

“When an older guy approached me outside school and asked if I want to make money, I looked at him and thought, ‘Wow he’s everything I want to be’.” In a day, Mr Addison made £1,000. He was 15. “I wasn’t excited at the money but at getting something right for the first time in my life. I started doing it everyday because I had found purpose. I started making money, everyone started respecting me, girls started liking me. That’s what a lot of these young people are finding.”

He pauses. “I don’t want to glorify the past. A lot of people are so quick to talk about it like it’s a badge of honour, but for me this wasn’t an achievement. This was me really lost. I had no identity or self esteem, confidence.”

View this post on Instagram

New building new project #vision #construction #Godsplan #boxupcrime

A post shared by Stephen Addison BEM (@stephenaddison90) on Aug 18, 2018 at 4:02pm PDT

And he was in danger. Friends were getting stabbed or sent to prison. He was kidnapped by another gang. “I was in a lot of situations where I could have died, he says. “I had a dream where I went to prison for murder. It changed everything.”

Walking away was difficult. “A lot of people could pay their bills because of me. They needed me.”

A new direction

He started boxing, inspired by his father who used to fight. Despite getting Us in his A-levels, he got a place to study business administration at South Bank University. In his second year, he won the British Amateur University Boxing Championing. His dissertation was about setting up a boxing academy. He got a first and the university was so impressed it backed a pilot project which ran in August 2013 for about 100 young people.

View this post on Instagram

Sharing some plans with the Mayor Of London #boxupcrime #politics #borisjohnson

A post shared by Stephen Addison BEM (@stephenaddison90) on Mar 11, 2016 at 4:27am PST

It is often said that young people get involved with gangs and crime because of funding cuts to youth services, but Mr Addison does not think the problem is so simple.

“I believe that as a society we need to look way beyond relying on government budgets to do something good. We try to focus on the social enterprise model, generating revenue with boxing lessons for young people and then reinvesting it. Even though the Government has been put in place to look after society, everyone needs to take leadership.

“Where I come from, if you don’t hustle and grind, you wouldn’t eat or you wouldn’t be able to get what you wanted. I believe in the same concept now. If I don’t hustle and grind and work hard, we won’t see young kids coming off the streets.”

Five years later, Box Up Crime is going strong. Which young people stand out? “One of them, Beni, came to me when he was 12. He’s my right hand man now, up with me painting the gym. He just won his first fight. Brogan, she just won the Mayor of London's leadership award. Another, Franco, he became three time national boxing champion, graduated university.”

And Mr Addison now has an BEM. “I’m going to wear the medal with my tracksuit,” he laughs. “I’ll put it on and walk around the hood for a bit. It’s not for me, not about me. It’s for the young people I work with. I’ve made a mess, made mistakes, been kicked out, been arrested, been through the journey, so I can say, ‘Why can’t you lot get a medal as well?’”

A young man is running up and down on the pitch outside the new headquarters. “What are you, a footballer?” Addison shouts out to him. “Yeah. I want to play for West Ham.”

“You should come and train here,” Mr Addison shouts back. “I’m setting up a boxing gym. I’m coming out.” And he’s off.

The post From gangs to gongs: How a boxer is using sport to turn young people away from crime appeared first on

Original source:

Relevant news

Leave a Reply