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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
education
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London