Carney's gym and community centre in Petworth street, Battersea, offers young people between the ages of 11-25 the opportunity to get fit, learn new skills and hang out in a safe and nurturing environment.
Inspired by boxing legend Mick Carney and established in 2012 the club has turned around the lives of many through an engagement in boxing and fitness.
Before lockdown, the centre used food donated by City Harvest to provide hot meals as part of their 'fit and fed' programme on Monday and Wednesdays. They do some boxing, then sit down to a meal together. Around 60 people attend each week.
When Covid hit, Carney's went from feeding around 60 to 30 youngsters a week, focusing on those households where food isn’t necessarily prioritised or affordable.
"Our numbers increased when we started offering the food. Some just come for the food , as they may not otherwise eat. Leftovers would all go back with those in need. people enjoyed sitting down and eating together, the meal time experience, a sense of belonging."
I spoke to Rory, the lead youth worker, who told me that since the gym was established, they have become increasingly popular, working with 600-700 young people and adults a year. Many of their visitors are disadvantaged or excluded from society, and their aim is to work with them long term, to help reduce re-offending and to improve social mobility and cohesion.
During Covid , the centre has been closed for face to face training and activities. But the imaginative staff have moved their services online. They now offer video calls, and boxing, fitness and yoga classes that people can participate in from their own homes.
We have seen a huge uptake from local residents wanting to help with the food care packages and were lucky enough to get Stormzy to come a deliver a few of the care packages, which really helped the morale of some of our participants. We have been providing intensive support to some families
“As well as the online training session, we have been doing a small amount of 1:1 boxing classes in the park and we have been putting together food packages for some of our regulars, based on our knowledge of their families, so we can make sure the food we deliver is targeted to each individual’s needs. It’s a great way to check in with people, to make sure they are okay and to stay engaged."
Rory told me that making this work has been a big effort, lots of their regular staff have been furloughed, and they have had to be creative in order to still be able to provide the essential service as best as they can. Normally they have 5 full time and 20 part time staff and around 20 volunteers that all contribute to the success of the centre.
“We’ve kept in contact with most people, but some have had difficulties with the internet. As the team is currently much smaller than usual it’s been a challenge. We acted swiftly at the onset of the Covid situation, so I think that’s really helped."
Alongside delivering food parcels to around 30 homes, the staff at the centre have also been running weekly cook along sessions for a group of around ten 11-18 years old’s. They drop a bag of food off to the youngster which contains all the ingredients required for the cooking session, and host the cooking class online.
“They love it, they’re learning new skills and creating dishes to share with their families. We’ve made things like tuna pasta bake, vegetable and chicken curry. Being able to cook from home gives the kids the opportunity to feel involved, and they’re not self-conscious as they are in their own space."
Having built strong relationships with their gym users has given the dedicated staff the knowledge to know who is most in need, and to know what they and their family can use.
When I asked Rory how people have been affected by the current situation, he told me that people’s mental health has suffered.
“Lots of young people see us as their second or even first home. So some have lost access to a safe and positive place to be. Some have had family members who have had Covid 19 which puts a huge strain on people’s mental health too. And missing the physical activity that we provide, even though we’ve been posting online sessions every day, is not the same as being able to come in to the gym”
How City Harvest helps
“City Harvest really helps us by providing us with food that we would otherwise have to buy, which would use up our limited resources, so we would struggle to be able to provide the services we do. We’re not just feeding people, we’re nourishing them. Because of the diverse array of food you provide, Instead of the kids just having chicken and chips, you provide fruit and vegetables that allow us to provide healthy meals. Because of C19, our income has dropped by about a third - City Harvest lightens this load.”
Looking forward, the centre hopes that is will be able to start running small sessions soon. Not only do they provide boxing, yoga and fitness, they also have a music studio, a bike fixing programme and run educational courses which give people the chance for a bright future.
City Harvest are proud to support Carney’s during this difficult situation, and will be there when life starts to return to some sense of normality and into the future post Covid 19.
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