Monkstown Boxing Club celebrating 40 years at the heart of the community

An award-winning boxing club, recognised for helping to bring people from a diverse range of backgrounds together as well as supporting vulnerable members of the community, is marking its 40th anniversary this week.
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Founded in 1983, Monkstown Boxing Club has nurtuted the talents of European, World, Commonwealth and Olympic champions with notable fighters Neil Sinclair and Steven Ward among the over 300 champions to have been trained at the club.

Originally based at Monkstown’s old community centre, the club moved its current home on Cashel Drive in 1996.

Famed for its stable of prize-winning boxers, the club has branched out over recent years to offer much more than just sport and fitness classes.

Delegates at the presentation of the then Queen's Award for Voluntary Service to Monkstown Boxing Club. (Pic: Pacemaker).Delegates at the presentation of the then Queen's Award for Voluntary Service to Monkstown Boxing Club. (Pic: Pacemaker).
Delegates at the presentation of the then Queen's Award for Voluntary Service to Monkstown Boxing Club. (Pic: Pacemaker).

The club’s project manager, Paul Johnston MBE, spoke to the Newtownabbey Times to reflect on the club’s four decades in existence.

Mr Johnston said: "There have been so many highlights over the years, however, two stand out. The hosting of the Cuban Olympic team in 2012 as part of the London Olympic Games and the club’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic when we transformed the club into a soup kitchen and food bank are special memories.

“Over the past 11 years, Monkstown Boxing Club has been one of the first organisations in Northern Ireland to recognise the importance of providing young people with place-based youth and education services within their own communities.

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"The club serves over 1,000 young people annually across Newtownabbey and the south-east Antrim area through a growing number of inclusive education, leadership, sports and youth development programmes.

"By developing an education model that was responsive to the unique academic and social needs of every child, Monkstown Boxing Club has worked untiringly to level the playing field for all children, creating a future where all young people are equipped to fulfil their vision of success in and out of the classroom.

“The club now is an award-winning and internationally recognised children and young people’s charity that has been serving the local community of Monkstown and beyond for over 40 years.

"In 2019, it became the first boxing club in Northern Ireland to receive the King’s Award for Voluntary Service for its work in the community, in particular, our response during the Covid-19 pandemic.

"It was during consecutive lockdowns that young people stepped up and helped transform the club into a soup kitchen and foodbank that would become a lifeline to some of the most vulnerable and isolated in the community.”

Founded during some of the worst days of the Troubles, the club has helped to build strong relationships with people based at other boxing clubs from other traditions.

Paul explained: “In the early days of the club, sporting activities like boxing and football, were the lifeline of communities like Monkstown and Rathcoole, providing a safe space during times when the streets were tough and filled with menace and potential trouble.

"It also gave many young boxers the chance, as it still does today, to meet and make friends with their peers from ‘the other side’.

"It remains one of the few sports that can reach into working-class communities where other sports can’t. Our ‘Sister Clubs’ partnership with Holy Trinity ABC in Turf Lodge, provides a shining example of how boxing offers a unique environment where young people from diverse backgrounds come together to pursue common goals and foster friendships through boxing.”

This year, Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council granted planning approval for the club’s ambitious plans to create a community wellbeing hub, ‘The Box.’

The facility, which is to be constructed to the rear of the existing boxing club at the junction of Cashel Drive and Monkstown Road, is set to include a boxing club, state of the art fitness suite, music and dance studio, climbing zone, classrooms and training rooms, training kitchen and social enterprise units as well as staff offices and other ancillary accommodation.

Commenting on the plans and what they will mean for future generations, Paul stated: “Looking ahead, the club has developed an ambitious vision and strategic plan for the next decade.

"Our goal is to reach more of the most vulnerable children and young people than ever before. With planning permission granted for a new 4,000sqm community and wellbeing hub called ‘The Box’, the space will transform the lives of children and young people for generations to come.

"Our ambition knows no bounds, as we aspire to reach every child who needs us and support them in achieving their full potential.”

Thanking everyone who has backed the club over the years, helping it to go from strength to strength, Paul added: “Our funding partners are such an important aspect of our success and vision.

"Without them we couldn’t deliver the broad range of services to children and young people in the community.

"We are particularly thankful to the National Lottery Community fund, Children in Need, Department of Education, Department of Justice and Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council.

"We are very fortunate to have a dedicated group of volunteers who are so passionate and commit time and energy to our boxing programme, however, in terms of our youth, community and education work, the club had to put all of our staff on protective notice when funding from the Department of Education was cut due to the Assembly being collapsed.”

The major milestone is to be celebrated in style tomorrow (Friday, November 24) with a gala dinner at Corr’s Corner Hotel in Newtownabbey.