“I just fight to keep it open as long as I can” says champion boxer on running historic Hackney youth club
- Credit: Razvan Pestean
Former European and British super middleweight boxing champion James Cook MBE has been fighting to keep Pedro Youth Club, in Lower Clapton, open for decades.
He spoke to reporter Holly Chant about his philosophy for running the club and teaching young people values and discipline.
James believes youth clubs are vital in keeping kids off the street and away from violence and drugs.
He told the Gazette: “If you go in Pedro Club you’ll see you see a sign saying : ‘Respect, manners, attitude.”
“If schoolkids come in here and they don’t say hello or excuse me, they are going back through the door.
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“I totally believe and keep saying to young people: ‘As long as you show manners and respect somebody might hold the door for you. Nobody wants to let somebody in with a bad attitude.”
The Jamaican-born boxing champion, who was awarded an MBE for “his outstanding work with the young people”, believes anyone can be successful with hard work and a good attitude.
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James told the Gazette about the importance of role models and getting other former champions together to speak to young people: “We want to say to them: ‘We was of the street and born on an estate - we just worked hard to achieve it and it can be done’.”
He believes clubs like Pedro are vital in keeping young people away from crime and violence.
The 61-year-old told the Gazette: “There aren’t as many clubs out there - nothing is free anymore and the biggest thing out there is drugs.”
“We don’t get a lot of funding – to be honest a lot of it comes out of my own pocket.
“I think something is needed for the young people because I grew up around clubs.”
A 2020 report on The Role of Youth Services in Tackling Knife crime by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) states knife crime has reached “a record high” with more than 17,500 boys aged 14 reporting having carried a knife or weapon.
Many young men also said they have had weapons used against them.
Yet, over the last ten years, there have been significant cuts to local authority spending on youth services and analysis by the YMCA found the average spending on youth services went from £7.79 million in 2010 to £2.45million in 2019/2020.
James began running the club in the 1990s while working as an outreach worker in Clapton - an area dubbed “murder mile” at the time due to its high murder rate.
Upon finding out that it had ran out of money he spoke to Hackney council and later formed a management committee made up of “guys from the boxing world”.
“I opened the door [to the club].
“I saw some people downstairs, I think belonged to the council, and I went to them and said: ‘You know what, you can’t have it because this belongs to the young people.”
The club also runs football teams and has a music studio for members to express themselves though, James is strict on the lyrics they can and cannot use restricting references to violence and murder.
“Young people tend to take a lot of things from America, what they see on television and they think it’s real.
“So yeah, I’m very strict when it comes to certain rules.“
Still, boxing is at the heart of Pedro and many young people come to train with James and speak to him about their lives.
He said: “When you’re in a boxing gym you don’t see colour, nothing like that comes into it.
“You just see everybody supporting everyone and there’s a thing about boxing - everybody’s a team.
“That’s something to drill in them – even if one person gets out of place then you’ve got to bring them back into place.
“It’s that drill, working together, that team, that unity, that feeling.”
“I Just fight to keep it open as long as I can.”
While Covid-19 has disrupted the club’s usual summer fundraising events James is confident Pedro Club will survive the pandemic and welcomes support from the community.
To donate visit www.justgiving.com/pedroclub/donate