Impact that goes beyond the ring at Albion Boxing Academy
Appreciation of the efforts of key workers and NHS staff is at an all-time high.
It would probably not be too wide of the mark to suggest that many sectors were taken for granted before the pandemic, but their true worth was then seen by all.
Gary Davidson Jnr fits into that description.
He is a dietician specialising in type one diabetes, managing a caseload of around 330 children and young adults as part of a multidisciplinary team for the NHS in hospitals in the East of England.
Making a difference through his career is not enough for Gary though, and he has a far wider reach into the community once he clocks off from the day job.
Out of hours, he is head coach of the Albion Boxing Academy.
Boxing clubs can earn accolades through performance - achieved by fighters in the ring - but that arguably masks a far greater social impact.
“Boxing does a number of things - it teaches discipline, it teaches respect, it channels aggression, all these are valuable life lessons,” says Gary.
“It’s engageable at a low cost so people can access it from a low economic status.
“We have kids come into the gym who are vulnerable, who might have had a hard time and we give them an option.
“We channel their aggression and effectively, if we turn them around - which we have done many a time in the past - it’s a success.
“Also, we give these kids and adults a family. Some of these kids and adults who have moved to the area or are struggling to fit into the mainstream, we give them a family under one roof.
“When they step in that gym, everybody is the same, everybody is on the same level, everybody is treated the same. There are a number of reasons why it’s such a good platform for young children and adults to get into.”
Daniel Zeichner is no stranger to pulling the punches in the House of Commons, but was blown over by the efforts of the Albion.
The Cambridge Labour MP went to visit Gary as the indoor gym is gradually reopened after the easing of lockdown restrictions, and it left its mark - in a metaphorical sense!
“When chatting to him, he realised what we do for the community outside of being a bog standard boxing club - he was impressed,” says Gary.
Albion does a vast range of voluntary work by offering free boxing to a wide part of society.
They provide free opportunities to those that have come out of prison, and their families; those on probation, working with Cambridgeshire police and taking referrals; for people with mental health issues that come through numerous agencies; and run classes for TBAP in Cambridge, which is for youngsters expelled from mainstream schools.
They also help at after-school clubs throughout the city, and are inclusive of all genders, races and ages - from four-year-olds up.
Going back to the perception of being performance-related, Gary explains that is only a very small part of what they are about.
“You might get various coaches in and around the country with big egos, who are always interested in being the best club - you see it all the time, I see it on social media,” he says.
“It’s not about producing national champions day in, day out, it’s about turning kids around.
“It’s about taking kids with no confidence and putting them in the gym environment, building their confidence, watching them grow into young men with respect and manners.
“We’re successful. We’ve put out a lot of national champions, but that is not our policy.
“None of the coaches, the 12 volunteers that help at the Albion, are there to churn out national champions.
“That is not at the forefront of their thoughts, it’s lovely if it comes and it does, but initially we are there to help these kids and adults.”
Gary’s inspiration comes through a family association with the sport.
His great grandfather and grandfather both boxed, his father had 158 amateur fights and 19 pro fights, he had 43 amateur fights, his son has had 45 and his nephew had 40.
“I grew up on top of a boxing pub as a young child, and I’ve always been in and around boxing from a very young age - that is the inspiration behind getting into boxing,” he says.
“The inspiration behind what we actually do in and outside boxing itself for the community is that I like helping people.
“I work for the NHS, I don’t earn fortunes, but I get a kick out of seeing people enjoy life, seeing people turn their lives around and that is my main inspiration.”
There is a crossover between his day job and his volunteer work, and that is the aspect of obesity.
Albion provide various classes for different people at different levels who have problems with “weight management”.
“We don’t deter them from joining the boxing club, obviously we don’t push them into any contact or anything like that, and if they just want to keep fit then that is perfectly fine,” he says.
“But we’re quite strong on tackling obesity and lifestyle.
“I’ve seen kids that have come in overweight, stuck with me for a few years and have got down to a healthy weight, and have changed things around which is lovely.”
It leads to a final question though.
Given that there will always have to be an element of performance associated with boxing clubs - if only for those that want to test themselves on the bigger stages - which provides greater satisfaction to the coach? The national champion or the person that has turned their life around?
“It’s the second, without a shadow of a doubt,” he answers without a moment’s thought.
“A national champion will last a day. The social media will go crazy, everyone will be happy, a day or two later it’s forgotten about.
“You’ve achieved something, the kid has achieved something, fantastic. To win a national title, you’ve got to have the heart, you’ve got to be fit and you’ve got to be talented.
“Every single one of our coaches - we’re quite selective - are pretty much family, and we get a kick out of turning people around.
“They come in with no confidence, maybe overweight, and turn into fine men and women - that would be the drive behind it.”
Cambridge MP knocked out by the success of Albion
Daniel Zeichner was floored by a boxing club that punches above its weight.
The Cambridge Labour MP met Albion Boxing Academy head coach Gary Davidson at the Cherry Hinton Constitutional Club venue on Cherry Hinton Road to learn about its community work and history.
The gym is family run and features sentimental memorabilia, including a giant mural of Gary, his father and son.
“It was a pleasure to visit the Albion Boxing Club and learn about its rich history and promising future,” said Mr Zeichner.
“I never knew before that Pink Floyd had played in the building! I could feel the friendly atmosphere as soon as I walked in, and it was great to find out more about the family run club and how boxing runs through the generations.
“I saw the trophies and discovered how they have been very successful at a national level, and also heard about their excellent record at social inclusion working closely with the Cambridgeshire police, the city council, schools and Cambridgeshire Mental Health trusts.
“You can learn discipline, control and camaraderie through boxing – and Gary and his team have been putting this to excellent use through, for example, a successful project to tackle anti-social behaviour among a group of young people.”