Newham-based Fight for Peace became a Vanguard partner earlier this year. The organisation works with young people aged 7-25, delivering boxing and martial arts training combined with personal development.
Jamie Lowe, Fight for Peace’s Head of Academy, explains: “We believe that combat sport is a really good tool to engage with young people. And there’s a lot of things you can learn from martial arts that you can use outside the gym, whether its understanding the improvement that comes from the work you put in every day, or that you’re working in the gym as a team, then you’re in the ring on your own, but you still have a team behind you. And there are lots of things around discipline, hard work, which are really, really important.
“But we integrate personal development in that. All our coaches are qualified youth workers. We recognise as a coach you have unique access and there are opportunities for conversations, for developing young people, if you have the skills to do that.”
There is also a team of qualified youth workers who can support young people beyond the gym. Fight for Peace delivers employment support, training on site, and it works in schools with people who have already been excluded, and those who are at risk. There’s a youth leadership group that acts as a link between young people and the staff and makes sure the team is held accountable for everything they do.
“Sometimes young people just want to have conversations with other young people”, Jamie says. “We have group discussions, separated by gender, an opportunity for young people to feel safe in a particular space. Combat sports can be quite a masculine environment, so we’re working hard to include young women in that space. We have a female only boxing session, but also these group discussions, understanding that these young women are there to support each other, not fight each other. “
“And we have separate group discussions for young men, focussed particularly on mental health, because we recognise that in young men there are much higher rates of suicide. We are actually funded by Newham as part of their Suicide Prevention Strategy”.
“It’s a space where young men can come and talk about their feelings and normalise that and get support for that and feel uplifted. It’s not just about coming in and hitting a bag, it’s asking what’s making you feel upset?”
Jamie says the organisation has seen a massive increase since Covid in how much support young people need, especially those who’ve had challenges in early life. “It’s obviously much more of a risk factor in terms of them becoming more at risk from grooming, exploitation and youth violence.”
Although it’s early days in the partnership, Jamie has already seen benefits of working with the Vanguard. He explains: “There’s a spectrum of where young people are with their mental health. Sometimes when you’re working with young people you can see a decline but there isn’t the service to try to turn that around at an earlier point. With people who have poorer mental health there is obviously a need for ongoing support, and particularly when you’re talking about that 18-25 age group it can be very difficult to get those interventions in place at that time. So, we’re hoping with this programme there can be earlier interventions, and better access to more support when somebody is in a really poor condition.”
He gives an example of a young person they had been working with who had been referred to services in Newham but hadn’t always engaged with NHS services. “Asking him to come on a particular day to access services – it’s never going to happen,” says Jamie.
The team at Fight for Peace could see that help was needed, but not being clinicians themselves were unable to provide it. Vanguard’s Hub includes a clinical psychologist, who can access notes and NHS records. “They very quickly put together a programme,” says Jamie. “They know who to contact and ask for professional meetings. These were things we had been arguing for. It was a game changer. The amount of support that’s come in place because of the Vanguard team has been phenomenal.
“The Vanguard team are incredibly good at working with young people. And they’ve asked for our young people to be involved in recruitment, which fits with our values.”
Jamie believes that what Fight for Peace brings to the partnership is relationships and the potential to build trust: “We have longstanding relationships with young people, particularly young people who are at risk of violence, who have ongoing mental health needs. Often they are young people who will talk to us a little bit about what they need but don’t necessarily want support. The relationships we have can be an opportunity to build trust between NHS services and young people who need the support but don’t necessarily trust services like that.
“And I think allowing us to offer Vanguard to come into a space that young people feel comfortable with can be really important in allowing young people to access those services. So there’s a real synergy between us. I hope it lasts beyond the original 18 months.
“Sometimes for organisations like ours it feels that you are pushing against the current, trying to support young people without the funding and the services to be able do that. And potentially the Vanguard will be really important in supporting young people.
“I have to commend NHS England for funding a project like this. I can’t articulate enough how impactful I think it potentially could be, especially if it becomes a leading light in how other local authorities or the NHS partners deliver services for young people. I feel there’s quite a heavy burden in making this successful because I do really think this could be useful if we can articulate well the impact of it.”
Fight for Peace – Helping Tania follow her dreams
Tania was first introduced to Fight for Peace ten years ago, attending boxing, Muay Thai, and the personal development sessions. Through Fight for Peace, she wanted to release negative feelings and emotions in a more positive and productive way and get to know more people. She thought “If I can get past the sports challenging sessions, I can get through life’s challenges.”
More recently, she has had highs and lows. She has stepped back from the sports sessions for now but is still being monitored by one of Fight for Peace’s youth workers. She is supported in various ways, which she believes made a big difference for herself and her family. It also helped her stay hopeful and positive.
Tania is now hoping to get to university and is looking for a more flexible job. She has an updated CV and has already been invited to attend an employment session with Fight for Peace’s employability coordinator.
Although she has been struggling with her mental health and job opportunities, Tania has a positive mindset. Her Fight for Peace mentor would often say to her that life is filled of boundless opportunities, and she truly believes it and will continue to chase her dreams.
The name of this young person has been changed to protect their privacy.