By his very nature boxing coach Mark Reynolds is a fighter – but Covid-19 has been his toughest opponent.
Mark set up Rawthorpe Amateur Boxing Club (RABC) more than 20 years ago but the Coronavirus pandemic has rocked its foundations to the core.
Mark had 94 fights as boxer but says the hardest fight of his life is the one he’s still engaged in – fighting to save the club.
RABC had only just completed a three-year refurbishment of three-storey Bridge Croft Mills in Tanyard Road, Milnsbridge, when Coronavirus hit.
“March last year was just like hitting a brick wall,” said Mark. “Keeping the club going has been the hardest fight of my life and we couldn’t have done it without the support of all the members. Without them we may have folded, and we are still struggling.
“We have 10,000 sq ft of space over three floors which we have developed over time. We were fortunate to have a company do £25,000-worth of work for us, and we got to a stage of being self-sufficient which was amazing.
“However, we then hit March. To say we are lucky with volunteers, coaches and parents is an under-statement. They have been superb all through this.
“Part of my role during this whole pandemic is simply to help us keep our head above water financially, and it’s not easy at all.
“You have to remember that between all the lockdowns there was a chance for us to get out there and do things, but it has been difficult because people have been scared of the virus.
“We didn’t get a lot of footfall coming into the gym, meanwhile we still have to pay our bills every month like any other business.
“It’s just difficult because no-one is using the gym but we still have rent to pay. It has been a living nightmare to keep it all together. We did get a small cash pot from Sport England last summer but it didn’t cover all the costs we needed to.”
Over two decades RABC, previously based at the Gas Club in Gasworks Street, Huddersfield, have helped thousands of youngsters find a focus and discipline in their lives.
Boxing is great training for life – both mentally and physically – and once Mark brings his influence to bear he can change lives. There are countless young people who have reason to thank Mark for making them the people they are today.
Mark is passionate about boxing but boxing is only the hook, if you’ll forgive the pun. Once young people start channelling their energy into the sport, they learn to trust Mark and his coaches and it’s then they can help shape lives for the better.
Mark said: “The work we do through boxing genuinely makes a difference to people’s lives. We make a material difference and save other businesses and the authorities hundreds of thousands of pounds every year due to the work we do in the community.
“For that reason I think we deserve more financial support than we receive. I hope someone out there can hear us and recognise the amazing work we do.
“It’s not about my pocket, it’s money for the club and it all goes back into the community. And we could do so much more, believe you me.”
Under lockdown restrictions, the boxing club has kept its members engaged through the power social media and technology.
One parent suggested that members take part in a virtual boxing tournament. With the crazy idea floated, the coaches at the club made it happen. The eventual winner was 13-year-old Maisie.
Explaining how the competition worked, Mark said: “A young boxer would be sent a video of another boxer filmed by his or her parents and then they would be judged.
“It was shadow boxing over video basically, and so every Friday evening Andy, one of our coaches, would give a press conference and do a draw for who would face who, Sky Sports-style.
“It became a part of our weekly sessions, it came to a finale in December after Lockdown 2 where we met in the boxing hall, everyone social distanced. The referee stood in a neutral corner of the ring, we had a boxer in a blue corner and a red corner, and we had an MC.
“It was Maisie who won, and the whole thing was just so inspirational. There was no contact but it was judged on skill and fitness in two-minute rounds, so it really did inspire the whole club.”
Mark’s next task is to raise money for a proper heating system. The old mill building gets extremely cold during the winter months.
“Because it’s an old mill, it hasn’t got the heating you need when you have children of five, six, seven coming,” said Mark. “It’s harder to motivate them to come with the building being as cold as it is.”
The club are aiming to raise £10,000 for the new heating system and a JustGiving page has been set up.
This week Ukrainian former boxer Wladimir Klitschko described boxing as a “kind of magic.”
In a tweet, he added: “It gives discipline to the wild. Strength to the weak. Confidence to the shy.”
That’s the magic Mark and his coaches create, and that’s why Mark believes they can do so much more with a little extra help.
“We are only scratching the surface in what we can do,” said Mark. “No-one gets paid at the club, we are all just hardworking volunteers.
“We see the difference we make to young people’s lives and you just can’t put a price on that.”