Boxing: Cook takes heat off streets

Former stablemate of Calzaghe is busy tackling gang culture on 'Murder Mile'

It began when James Cook was walking along an east London street and came across a teenage boy aggressively harassing a young woman. "I went over and had a quiet word," he recalls. "It was sorted." Hardly surprising, as Cook is 6ft 2in and built like the super-middleweight boxing champion he once was.

The incident got him thinking. "So many kids of this age seem to have nothing to do but roam the streets in gangs and cause trouble. They have no respect, no manners. I felt it would help if a bit of discipline could be brought into their lives.

"As it happened, I'd hadsome experience working with younger kids in south London, and someone suggested I might help out with older kids to get them interested in something other than street crime. Boxing is ideal. It first taught me discipline and respect, and not to take liberties with people."

Three years on, the Jamaican-born Cook, 49, operates from a once-dilapidated youth club in the 2012 Olympic heartland of Hackney known as "Murder Mile", where feral tearaways armed with guns and knives roam streets in which police admit they have been struggling to curb the youth-gang culture. Only last weekend, in nearby Stoke Newington, a 16-year-old was stabbed to death during a series of running fights between two rival gangs, the 26th teenage murder victim of similar street violence in London this year.

Yet local police say that but for Cook's inspirational endeavours at the Pedro Youth Centre, things would be much worse. Last month the ex-boxer's one-man crusade against street crime was recognised with an MBE.

When Cook, a father of four who now lives in Hackney, began his fight at the Pedro Centre, it had unpaid bills and the telephone had been cut off. Now, after begging funds from friends in the boxing fraternity, among them the promoters Frank Maloney and Derek Williams (himself an ex-fighter) and Bernard Hart of Lonsdale Sports, plus a loan from the local council, there is a gymnasium with a boxing ring and organised football, basketball and table tennis. There are also arts and drama classes and a com-puter room, all used by up to 100 boys and girls every day.

"To be honest, we are struggling again for funding right now, but somehow we have to keep going," says Cook. "These kids need it desperately. One of the things we do at local boxing shows is get them to go around with buckets for donations." There have been offers from other organisations. "But having seen what we have achieved here, they want to get in on the act and take the whole thing over."

Cook runs the club with four other volunteer helpers, one of them specialising in rehabilitation of young offenders. He says there are some hard cases who, when they first joined, "didn't seem to care if they lived to see the next week. But discipline is paramount. There's really nothing much else around here for them to do but hang around the streets.

"We started by persuading parents on the estates to get their kids to come along, but now the word has spread that they can come in, get involved in something positive, get fit and even have a bit of a laugh. But I insist on certain behaviour. They know if they muck around they will be in trouble. I was brought up by strict, law-abiding parents. If I said something untoward in front of them, I would get a clip around the ear, but for the majority of kids that come through these doors, anti-social behaviour is the norm.

"Discipline and good manners are something they have never heard of, yet alone experienced. They have never learned to say hello or goodbye, please or thank you. I talk to them in the language they understand, but withoutthe swearing. I won't have no swearing. Anyone using bad language has to get in the ring with me." There are few takers.

This is more than just a heart-warming seasonal tale of goodwill to young people. Chief Superintendent Stephen Dann of Hackney Police says: "James is doing a fantastic job with youngsters who are hardest to reach. He is helping us to cut down crime and making our streets safer. He even organised a football match recently between some of our lads and his youngsters. I would like to have played myself, but to be honest, I was too frightened!"

Says Cook: "The police have been pretty good. They have given us everything we've asked for and try to help in every way. Some local bobbies even dipped into their own pockets to help pay for football kit. Some kids aren't too happy at having the cops around but I tell them, 'Look, they are human beings like you with a job to do'. The more we can get them together, the more they will understand each other."

Cook had a dignified 36-bout career as a stylish, stand-up boxer, winning British and European titles in the same weight division as his one-time stablemate named Joe Calzaghe. They never fought. "And I'm bloody glad we didn't." He proffers the view that Calzaghe and Floyd Mayweather are the finest fighters of the age. And, as Hackney's young hoodies have discovered, James Cook MBE is not a man to argue with.

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable