Great Britain

“I just fight to keep it open as long as I can” says champion boxer on running historic Hackney youth club

A young Hackney boxer trains at Pedro Club, in Lower Clapton. Picture: Razvan Pestean

A young Hackney boxer trains at Pedro Club, in Lower Clapton. Picture: Razvan Pestean

Razvan Pestean

Former European and British super middleweight boxing champion James Cook MBE has been fighting to keep Pedro Youth Club, in Lower Clapton, open for decades.

Boxing brings club members together and teaches them to work and help each other as a team. Picture: Raz PesteanBoxing brings club members together and teaches them to work and help each other as a team. Picture: Raz Pestean

He spoke to reporter Holly Chant about his philosophy for running the club and teaching young people values and discipline.

READ MORE: Community initiative supports young Hackney boxers and historic Clapton youth club

James has been running the club since the 1990s when it closed down due to a lack of funding. Picture: Razvan PesteanJames has been running the club since the 1990s when it closed down due to a lack of funding. Picture: Razvan Pestean

James believes youth clubs are vital in keeping kids off the street and away from violence and drugs.

He told the Gazette: “If you go in Pedro Club you’ll see you see a sign saying : ‘Respect, manners, attitude.”

Former European and British super middleweight boxing champion James Cook MBE. Picture: Razvan PesteanFormer European and British super middleweight boxing champion James Cook MBE. Picture: Razvan Pestean

“If schoolkids come in here and they don’t say hello or excuse me, they are going back through the door.

“I totally believe and keep saying to young people: ‘As long as you show manners and respect somebody might hold the door for you. Nobody wants to let somebody in with a bad attitude.”

James belives clubs like Pedro help to tackle knife crime and it has hosted public meetings on the issue. Picture: Razvan PesteanJames belives clubs like Pedro help to tackle knife crime and it has hosted public meetings on the issue. Picture: Razvan Pestean

The Jamaican-born boxing champion, who was awarded an MBE for “his outstanding work with the young people”, believes anyone can be successful with hard work and a good attitude.

James told the Gazette about the importance of role models and getting other former champions together to speak to young people: “We want to say to them: ‘We was of the street and born on an estate - we just worked hard to achieve it and it can be done’.”

A large reduction in funding for youth services has been linked to an increase in knife crime and the incidence of young men carrying knives and other weapons. Picture: Razvan PesteanA large reduction in funding for youth services has been linked to an increase in knife crime and the incidence of young men carrying knives and other weapons. Picture: Razvan Pestean

READ MORE: Cook’s autobiography takes read on journey through action-packed life

He believes clubs like Pedro are vital in keeping young people away from crime and violence.

The club also has a music studio giving young local people a place to express themselves with music. Picture: Razvan PesteanThe club also has a music studio giving young local people a place to express themselves with music. Picture: Razvan Pestean

The 61-year-old told the Gazette: “There aren’t as many clubs out there - nothing is free anymore and the biggest thing out there is drugs.”

“We don’t get a lot of funding – to be honest a lot of it comes out of my own pocket.

James believes youth services like youth clubs are vital in keeping young people off the streets and away from violence, drugs and crime. Picture: Razvan PesteanJames believes youth services like youth clubs are vital in keeping young people off the streets and away from violence, drugs and crime. Picture: Razvan Pestean

“I think something is needed for the young people because I grew up around clubs.”

READ MORE: Decades after Elizabeth Taylor saved it, Clapton’s Pedro youth club needs £50k to stay open

Significant reductions in funding for youth services has meant many young people have nowhere to go after school ends. Picture: Razvan PesteanSignificant reductions in funding for youth services has meant many young people have nowhere to go after school ends. Picture: Razvan Pestean

A 2020 report on The Role of Youth Services in Tackling Knife crime by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) states knife crime has reached “a record high” with more than 17,500 boys aged 14 reporting having carried a knife or weapon.

Many young men also said they have had weapons used against them.

James shares lessons he has learnt over his boxing career with young people at the club belieiving in the importance of fitness, values and discipline. Picture: Razvan PesteanJames shares lessons he has learnt over his boxing career with young people at the club belieiving in the importance of fitness, values and discipline. Picture: Razvan Pestean

Yet, over the last ten years, there have been significant cuts to local authority spending on youth services and analysis by the YMCA found the average spending on youth services went from £7.79 million in 2010 to £2.45million in 2019/2020.

READ MORE: 9 Stand United: Community group concerned about Hackney knife crime to hold public meeting at Clapton’s Pedro Club

Pedro Youth Club offers a space for young Hackney people to train in boxing, football and basketball. Picture: Razvan PesteanPedro Youth Club offers a space for young Hackney people to train in boxing, football and basketball. Picture: Razvan Pestean

James began running the club in the 1990s while working as an outreach worker in Clapton - an area dubbed “murder mile” at the time due to its high murder rate.

Upon finding out that it had ran out of money he spoke to Hackney council and later formed a management committee made up of “guys from the boxing world”.

The former European and British super middleweight champion says fitness is important in life. Picture: Razvan PesteanThe former European and British super middleweight champion says fitness is important in life. Picture: Razvan Pestean

“I opened the door [to the club].

“I saw some people downstairs, I think belonged to the council, and I went to them and said: ‘You know what, you can’t have it because this belongs to the young people.”

Young boxer trains at the club. Picture: Razvan PesteanYoung boxer trains at the club. Picture: Razvan Pestean

The club also runs football teams and has a music studio for members to express themselves though, James is strict on the lyrics they can and cannot use restricting references to violence and murder.

“Young people tend to take a lot of things from America, what they see on television and they think it’s real.

Mural of American, world heavyweight champion boxer Muhammad Ali at Pedro Club. Picture: Razvan PesteanMural of American, world heavyweight champion boxer Muhammad Ali at Pedro Club. Picture: Razvan Pestean

“So yeah, I’m very strict when it comes to certain rules.“

READ MORE: Hackney boxers save girl from attempted abduction

Young people keeping fit and healthy at Pedro Club. Picture: Razvan PesteanYoung people keeping fit and healthy at Pedro Club. Picture: Razvan Pestean

Still, boxing is at the heart of Pedro and many young people come to train with James and speak to him about their lives.

He said: “When you’re in a boxing gym you don’t see colour, nothing like that comes into it.

The club provides sports and activities to a range of ages. Picture: Razvan PesteanThe club provides sports and activities to a range of ages. Picture: Razvan Pestean

“You just see everybody supporting everyone and there’s a thing about boxing - everybody’s a team.

“That’s something to drill in them – even if one person gets out of place then you’ve got to bring them back into place.

Young Hackney boxers sparring. Picture: Razvan PesteanYoung Hackney boxers sparring. Picture: Razvan Pestean

“It’s that drill, working together, that team, that unity, that feeling.”

“I Just fight to keep it open as long as I can.”

James Cook MBE stands outside Pedro Club with his autobiography aptly titled Guardian Of The Streets. Picture: Razvan PesteanJames Cook MBE stands outside Pedro Club with his autobiography aptly titled Guardian Of The Streets. Picture: Razvan Pestean

While Covid-19 has disrupted the club’s usual summer fundraising events James is confident Pedro Club will survive the pandemic and welcomes support from the community.

READ MORE: Pedro gearing up for annual summer open air show

James formed a management committee in the 1990s and has been fighting to keep the club open ever since. Picture: Razvan PesteanJames formed a management committee in the 1990s and has been fighting to keep the club open ever since. Picture: Razvan Pestean

To donate visit www.justgiving.com/pedroclub/donate

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