Using a combination of non-contact boxing and intensive personal support to challenge and inspire young people experiencing adversity and disadvantage to realise their unique potential.
Empire Fighting Chance (EFC) was born on Bristol’s streets in 2006 to fight the impact of deprivation on the lives of young people.
The EFC model weaves in different forms of personal support while young people learn to box. All exercises are non-contact, focusing on improving technique and fitness (e.g. pad work and shadow boxing).
By participating in sport, young people gain support in ways that feel natural and are enjoyable, encouraging them to turn up, trust EFC staff and go onto make changes to improve their lives.
The majority of EFC participants live in poverty, poor housing and workless households. Many are from communities facing racial inequality, who experience a further layer of disadvantage through racism and identity issues.
These toxic socio-economic conditions create a range of emotional issues, including anger, anxiety, depression, hyperactivity and low self-esteem. Some have experienced trauma, often through sexual abuse and domestic violence.
When distress is expressed in ways that are behavioural rather than emotional, this can lead to punishment rather than care and support. Most young people supported by EFC have been excluded from school and/or involved in anti-social or criminal activity, such as substance misuse, gang crime, vandalism, self-harm and offending.
There are three main streams of the programme at EFC:
1) Training with the Champions: this is a 20-week programme that combines boxing, mentoring and psychological support. A trained Coach facilitates weekly sessions built around exercises that last for three minutes, the length of a round in boxing.
2) Boxing Therapy: with the aim of taking mental health services out of clinics and into deprived communities, a therapist, who is also a trained sports coach, seamlessly weave therapy into boxing sessions.
3) Boxing and careers: EFC integrates boxing into a range of careers activities to support young people on their journey into work. This includes Box Careers, a six-week programme that shifts attitudes towards careers and Heavyweight Hustle, an experiential enterprise programme.
Thirteen-year-old Reece was referred by his foster carer, Tom. Tom explained that; “When Reece came to us, he was eight. Tests showed he had enough drugs in him to suggest he was a regular amphetamine user. There were lots of drugs lying around the house he’d come from; they were hidden in the kid’s toys.”
Reece had endured sexual abuse and long periods of his childhood spent locked inside a room as his parents dealt drugs in the front room. As Reece got older, he become angry about his treatment.
He would flip tables and lash out at those around him. His self-esteem suffered; “I know myself as a nice, kind young man but whenever I am carrying my anger around, it makes me feel ashamed of myself. I feel I want to hurt myself back.”
Reece joined Boxing Therapy and was matched with a Therapist. Tom explained that; “The first few sessions were spent building up a relationship and after that Reece was able to openly talk about his feelings and where his anger was coming from and also expel some of his energy”. The therapist then focused on normalising Reece’s feelings and teaching him strategies for managing his anger without harmful acts of self-destruction.
Reece credits these strategies for being responsible for a 95% increase in his mood; “Ever since I’ve came here it’s been easier. I’ve calmed down so much. When I leave, I am like that has really helped with my anger.” Tom also saw a big difference: “Before a day wouldn’t go by without the school calling but the past 6-8 months it’s happened much less. He’s a lot more measured in how he reacts.”