Port Talbot Bulldogs Boxing have an open house tomorrow for a launch party to unveil £154,000 renovation works newly completed at their Baglan Moors gym.
The gym, situated next door to Port Talbot Town Cricket Club, was built in 2013 thanks to £277,000 of funding from the Welsh Government, but the further funding has enabled the construction of offices, new changing facilities and multi-function rooms.
“The new facilities will enable Bulldogs to keep doing what we’re doing, but to take it to the next level,” said Bulldogs Manager, Mal Emerson.
And what they are doing is a unique success story, using boxing “as a tool to help young people make positive choices in their lives”. It all began as a Boxing Club in 2008 in a small room at the back of Baglan Social Club.
“We had an 8ft boxing ring made of scaffolding, and two punch bags,” recalled Mal. “Then the social club went bust and we moved to a big wooden shed with no heating, down on the docks. We had to chase the rats out.”
But the boxing club had become a popular centre for young people wanting to train and get fit. Coaches were finding that as more young people came in, they were becoming mentors, increasingly helping with social problems as well as with training.
“Every social problem you can imagine hearing, we were hearing it,” he said.
The club realised they were making a difference to young people, and submitted their first funding bid to the Welsh Government. They set up a charity, Bulldogs Boxing and Community Activities.
“Bulldogs is the brand,” explained Mal. “Port Talbot Boxing Club is the sporting element, and we have people boxing with us at a very high level, boxing for Wales and doing well in competitions. But the charity is the community element. That means we can offer help to anyone and everyone , with what we call the five pillars programme. We help anyone from a five-year-old autistic child to a Welsh boxer, from an army veteran to someone unemployed, or to the ladies who come to our not-so-fit class.”
The five pillars is a programme developed by Fight for Peace, an international organisation which uses boxing and martial arts in combination with personal development to help young people in communities affected by violence, crime and social exclusion. The Bulldogs is one of 125 affiliated organisations around the world using the programme.
“Fitness and boxing is only one of the pillars,” explained Mal. “If someone doesn’t want to do fitness and boxing, that’s fine. We also offer personal development, open access, education employment and training and other support services. We work with everyone who comes to us to put together a personal development plan, and we help them by signposting them to other organisations, by using our business network to help them into suitable work. Those are just examples . We also work with foster children, with the armed forces and with 20 local partners to deliver life changing support to local people.
“We’re like a family here,” he added. “We want to give everyone a fighting chance in life.”
You can find out more at the Bulldogs Boxing and Community Centre event, which takes at 3pm on Friday 13 May.