Fri, Jun 15, 2018 - Page 16 News List

Boxing gym gets off the ropes a year after Grenfell fire


Boxing coach Moutaz Chellat, left, spars with a young boxer at the Dale Youth boxing club in west London on Friday last week.

Photo: AFP

Forced to move out of Grenfell Tower after a devastating fire one year ago, the famous Dale Youth boxing club has become an unlikely sanctuary for those affected.

The club, which has produced two world champions, George Groves and James DeGale, is operating temporarily out of a multistory car park in west London near the site of the blaze.

“Everyone has a close attachment to the tower,” Joe Sweeney, a trainer at the club for the past three years, told reporters at the gym’s new spartan and somber surroundings.

The fire spread quickly through the 24-story apartment block in the early hours of June 14 last year, killing 71 people.

The state-of-the-art gym, which has also produced more than 100 national champions, was on the first floor of the tower.

“People lost their lives and homes. The gym being destroyed is an afterthought and of secondary importance,” 34-year-old Sweeney said, as about 30 enthusiastic boys sparred and gave punching bags — some as heavy as 91kg — a pounding.

Boys aged eight and older who go to the club, many of whom knew people who died in the fire, were “affected,” but not as traumatized as might be expected, he said.

“Kids are pretty resilient and get over things quickly, whereas adults hang on to stuff and such events are something we don’t handle very well,” Sweeney said.

Jodie, 15, lost a close friend in the fire, Yahya Hashim. The two used to do homework together.

Jodie joined the club a month after the fire claimed the life of 13-year-old Hashim, his two brothers and his parents.

“It was a shock,” Jodie said, adding that the fire “is in the back of our minds, but we have to move on.”

“People have moved past blaming each other and the community has been strengthened so much, and now we are all in unison and helping each other to get through it,” Jodie said.

Asked if joining the gym was a way of honoring Yahya’s memory, Jodie simply said: “Yes, it is, because this gym is linked to him, as he would walk past it every day to school.”

“I will always have a sense of him when I am here,” he added.

On the night that the tower went up in flames, club trainer Moutaz Chellat looked on helplessly as five of his relatives — his uncle and aunt and three of their children — died.

“I lived downstairs from the tower, I could see it from my window and ran out,” said the 40-year-old, who has been a youth worker for nearly two decades. “It wasn’t a good feeling, panicking and all that.”

He said training young people at the gym helped him emotionally.

“It removes that anger and angry feeling towards certain things,” Chellat said.

Head coach Gary McGuinness, who has worked at Dale Youth for 15 years, said more local boys were going to the gym following the fire.

McGuinness commanded respect in the gym as he swept around the room, cajoling gently, encouraging and sparring with the kids in the ring.

He lost a close acquaintance, 65-year-old Tony Disson, whose three sons won medals and championships for the club.

“He was a big part of our club,” McGuinness said wistfully. “He would love to have seen the new club we have, that is for sure.”

The gym is due to move into new premises on June 24.

“We are going to push on, we have another home,” Sweeney said. “We can go there and keep helping the community and building champions.”

“Lots of the boys are still here from before and working to realize their dreams,” he added.

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