In collaboration with my two business partners, Poul Kellberg and Paul Kelly, and supported by the University of the West of Scotland, I am currently developing a brand new social enterprise initiative – Comeback Scotland. It is an innovative sporting initiative that uses boxing and physical training as a means of helping disadvantaged, marginalised young people face the challenges in their lives and make better decisions that lead to a more constructive and positive lifestyle. Based on an original concept in Denmark, it is underpinned by the strong recognition of the power sport holds to facilitate behavioural change. It is an exciting addition to the array of services currently available to address change amongst young people involved in or at risk of becoming involved in gang culture and criminal behaviour in the west of Scotland.
During the spring of 2014, I conducted in-depth, ethnographic research that examined the nature and impact of the work within the Comeback programme in Denmark. The findings suggested that the boxing gym and the use of boxing ‘metaphors’ provided the participating young people with a safe context to reflect upon their current challenges and find new ways of dealing with and managing these challenges. The programme assisted participants to develop the resilience and perseverance required to change their path away from criminal activity towards desistance.
Collectively, we have a strong understanding of how sport can help access participants and provide a safe context from which they can initiate change, however we are also clear that it is not the sport alone which brings about lasting change. The boxing gym, boxing training and, where appropriate, boxing competition bring opportunities for marginalised young people to gather in a credible space and participate in physical activity. However, arguably the more important aspects of the project involve workshops and access to agencies that can help participants affect change in their lives.
The workshop programme uses boxing metaphors to address the challenges and stigma faced by participants and allows them to work through these challenges without ‘personalising’ the issue or ‘exposing’ one participant in front of their peers. Whilst we understand the argument made by governing bodies and clubs about ‘sport for sports sake’, we also know that to bring about lifestyle change, sport needs to be accompanied by a range of workshops and information agencies who can assist participants to address the contemporary challenges they face.
This is an exciting project where a Danish model is being drawn upon to inspire us to find innovative new ways to tackle social disadvantage within a Scottish context. It is an initiative that can potentially change – or even save – lives.