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Andy Parsons

How a London boxing club founder is using exercise to help the homeless and tackle mental health

By Amy Smith
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More Londoners than ever are working out – and it’s not all about beach bods and muscle gains. Amy Smith hears inspiring stories from exercise evangelists. Portraits Andy Parsons

Sam Hadfield, 54, has been a boxing coach for more than 20 years. Sam’s battle with depression inspired him to set up Caris Boxing Club for Young Homeless People, which has provided free boxing coaching since 2011.

‘I come from a family of boxers – my brothers all boxed. I trained in loads of clubs but I used to struggle; I couldn’t do the discipline. In those days people didn’t know about ADHD.

‘Right now, I’m training a lot of people with mental health problems. This one lad hadn’t been out of the house for 20 years, and if you saw this fella now, you wouldn’t believe it. I go to his house twice a week and he comes down to the club on Sunday. I’ve got this other boy with autism and he’s loving it. Coaching works in different ways. The most important thing is you do a bit of exercise and get motivated.

‘I still have bad days with my depression, but what I tend to do is cry for others now: I feel for other people. The club is about me keeping busy, it’s my medication. It started with me volunteering at a homeless shelter for under-21s in Islington. One night I brought down some boxing gloves and pads, and that’s how the idea came to me. It was an accident really, and now we take referrals from all over London. Lots of these lads and girls are like family. They come round to mine for dinner. Some of these kids have gone on to have children, and I now have so many grandkids that aren’t mine by blood, if you know what I mean.

‘These people are not looking for world championship belts, they’re looking for a place back in the world. They’ve been let down in their lives and it can take a few months for them to learn to trust. One girl comes all the way from Croydon and sometimes she doesn’t train. But that’s fine: she got up and made that journey – she’s a champion for coming all that way.’

Caris Boxing Club for Young Homeless People runs at St Aidan’s Primary School, Albany Rd, N4 4RR. Sundays from 11am.

Feeling inspired? Get moving at London’s best fitness classes.

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