Ring of bright ambition

The International Boxing Academy: Seat of learning the ropes strengthens tomorrow's champions

Britain has no shortage of academies catering for the arts, from dramatic to culinary. But one purpose-built to enhance the oldest of them all, the noble art, is something of a novelty, though what is happening in the dormant coal-mining town of Peterlee, 15 miles east of Durham, is much more than that. It is a heartening example of how boxing and education can go hand in glove.

Britain has no shortage of academies catering for the arts, from dramatic to culinary. But one purpose-built to enhance the oldest of them all, the noble art, is something of a novelty, though what is happening in the dormant coal-mining town of Peterlee, 15 miles east of Durham, is much more than that. It is a heartening example of how boxing and education can go hand in glove.

Britain's first residential boxing academy for selected teenage prospects is now up and running in a remarkable establishment called East Durham and Houghall Community College, a nugget of sporting excellence in the North-east. There, six days a week, in the newly equipped gymnasium, a score of head-guarded hopefuls spar, skip and imbibe the words of the head coach Frank Collinson. Boxing, he tells them, is both an art and a science. "It's not all crash, bang, wallop, blood, sweat and snot. It's about tactics, technique, using your skills and using your brain."

At the International Boxing Academy the accent is on learning the ropes inside the ring and out. "Physical conditioning can take place in most gymnasiums," Collinson says. "But here our philosophy is to coach them not only physically but psychologically and nutritionally too."

The Oldham-born Collinson, 49, is an unlikely professor of pugilism. Eighteen years a teacher in Somerset, with a masters degree in history, the Sandhurst-trained ex-Army officer runs the academy along the lines of a boxing boot camp. Short back and sides, neatly dressed at all times, early to bed and early to rise (they run for 40 minutes at 6.30am before breakfast and a morning's gymnasium tuition), the boys who aspire to be champions in the hardest game of all quickly learn that the key to such achievement is discipline.

The best known trademark of the ring, a flattened nose, betrays the fact that Collinson has done his share of scuffling with the gloves on. An international class welterweight, he was a member of the 1972 Olympic squad so adroitly coached by the late David James, which included Alan Minter and Maurice Hope. But, as a lieutenant in the Parachute Regiment, he was drafted to Northern Ireland and was unable to make it to Munich. "Just as well because I'd have probably got my arse kicked," he says self-deprecatingly.

Collinson was selected to run the academy because of his background in teaching as well as amateur boxing. Indeed, the academy brings a whole new meaning to the fistic phrase, the educated left. Open to both male and female students - there are no women boxers at the moment but a dozen are anticipated by this time next year - the two-year course includes compulsory classroom education every afternoon as well as 15 hours a week schooling in ringcraft. Participants are studying A-levels, GNVQs and NVQs, and one of the certificates they must obtain includes dancing. Collinson insists boxers take these classes as an aid to their agility.

Among the academy's brightest prospects is 17-year-old light welterweight, Grant Brotherton, a double schoolboy champion from nearby Ashington, who is taking three A levels and hopes to go to university. But like most of his colleagues in East Durham's class of '99 he also has professional aspirations. What the academy hopes to achieve is to delay that process until they have fulfilled their potential as amateurs and are not pushed prematurely into the clutches of the pro-promoters.

At present there are 17 young boxers in residence. Three of the original 20 have dropped out either because the regime was too tough or they were homesick, but they are being immediately replaced from a long queue of applicants.

All of the boxers must have international potential. Most, like the 16-year-old Welsh twins Steffan and Rhydian Hughes, from the north Wales village of Pentrefoelas, are schoolboy or youth champions. They learned of the academy when it was mentioned during a boxing telecast on Sky. The Hughes boys have been boxing since they were eight and were encouraged to apply to the academy by their father. "My trainers in Wales taught us to scrap like professionals and have a fight," said Steffan, like his brother, a welterweight. "We always ended up sparring with bigger men. Here there are boys of our size and we are learning new techniques, like how to stand back and jab." Rhydian agrees: "We are improving our skills every day."

Both envisage a professional future. "My aim is to win a Lonsdale belt and bring it home to Wales," Rhydian says. They share a room on the main college campus in Durham, for which their father pays £20 apiece weekly. But there are subsidies and other students, such as Marius Calka, a 16-year-old refugee from Lithuania, a light welterweight who has been in Britain for 11 months, receive grants and support from their clubs for board, lodging and tuition. The course is also backed by the Further Education Funding Council.

Their skills are honed in no back-street gym. In a college which boasts some £2.5m worth of sports facilities it is probably the best equipped in the land, and cost £25,000 to set up. The Minister for Sport, Kate Hoey, confessed she was "knocked out" by the academy when she formally opened it last month. She was also deeply impressed - and no doubt astonished - that East Durham, which caters for a whole range of sports,and is soon to embrace athletics and swimming, has not received a penny in Lottery funding.

When its original application was rejected the college principal, 48-year-old Ian Prescott, obtained a bank loan - now paid off - and raised money for his ambitious sports project through sponsorship and running commercial courses in management training. "We'd sell our soul for sport," says the former professional footballer who left school without qualifications at 16, played for Bolton and Rochdale and briefly in Switzerland before obtaining a degree in engineering and a masters in education. He took over East Durham in 1994 when the college was virtually bankrupt and has turned it into a thriving educational hub with 2,500 full-time and 30,000 part-time students. "The key to the whole thing has been sport," he says. "I have always believed that, together they form a winning recipe."

Making boxing part of the academy was Prescott's brainchild. The idea had an enthusiastic response from the Amateur Boxing Association, who provide the expertise, select the students and coaches and supervise the course. "I always felt there was a need for boxing to have its own academy," Prescott says. "We need to reach those places where education has failed." Since sport became the beacon of the college's curriculum the crime rate locally has shown a significant decrease. And, says Prescott, the boxers are an exemplary breed in the way they conduct themselves. The academy's aim, clearly, is not only to turn out decent fighters, but decent young men.

And already it is getting results. Last week two students, the featherweight Stephen Walker and the light middleweight Jason Nicols, won National Association of Boys Club titles. More success seems likely, despite the inevitable expression of concern from the British Medical Association. "Do they realise they are promoting access to brain damage?" they asked when the academy was opened.

Well, what Collinson and Co are doing in Peterlee is teaching young boxers how to use their brains, in every sense. Much about the noble art has left a sour taste of late. Perhaps this academy is one way it can become the sweet science again.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
football
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
News
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<p>
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
</p>
<p>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
<p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
<p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
News
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?