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We’ve been to visit Empire School of Boxing in Blyth, Northumberland to find out how they’re working with local people to improve mental health through physical fitness.

Empire School of Boxing is a community-led project that creates a safe and inclusive space for anyone to access boxing and gym facilities.  

The Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) Mental Health Alliance awarded Empire School of Boxing funding to launch and run their Passport to Wellness Project which is focused on reaching those living with serious mental illness, supporting them to stay well in the community. 

Everyturn Mental Health is proud to be the lead partner for the VCSE Mental Health Alliance and it focuses on working with and supporting people in the local community with their mental health recovery.  

We went along to meet Les and Margaret, co-founders of the 30-year-old gym. Empire School of Boxing is located in an old school, and not only offers fitness and boxing sessions, but mental health support too.

Les runs a programme of daily boxing and fitness sessions at various levels, from complete beginner and rehabilitation after an injury or illness, to coaching boxing amateur champions of the future.  

The sessions give people an outlet for stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues, to be worked out through physical exercise in a safe and supportive space.  

Since opening in March 1992, the gym has welcomed 248 professional boxers and thousands of local people to offer physical fitness and mental health support.   

Les, who previously has worked as an England Boxing coach, a hypnotherapist who helped people in hospital, and various community-based roles with the local council. He loved his previous work, but he wanted to give something more back to the local community.  

“There’s a real expectation that the gym is full of strong people, but that’s not always true. People need people, and we all need to work through our problems. I just wanted to give local people a safe place to do this, so I set up the boxing gym.”

Inclusive mental health support

Les explains the important role the gym plays when it comes to supporting people in with their health. 

“There’s a real connection between our mental and physical health. If we’re not eating, sleeping, and resting right, it can knock our mental health and make things spiral. Part of the work we do is about letting people know about the importance of good nutrition, getting enough down time, and a proper night’s sleep.  

“Our gym motto is: ‘We produce good people first, and good boxers second’. I’m a firm believer in people helping people. We all need to work off some demons sometimes, and doing this through exercise is a really good way to do this.

“My dad used to say, ‘I’m better than no one and no one’s better than me’. There’s a huge part of understanding, accepting, and developing ways of coping when things aren’t going your way – in both boxing and life. I’m hopeful that people using the gym develop these skills, and that it really does help them with their mental health in the future too.

“I’ve seen so many people from all walks of life enter this gym, and everyone’s benefitted from it. Not only have they seen great physical health improvements, but improvements in their mental health too. It’s really made the difference to a lot of people and I’m so proud to have helped so many.”

Success stories

Empire School of Boxing has seen thousands of local people access boxing for their mental health and physical wellbeing.

Tina, a single mum of two boys with disabilities, has used recently joined the gym. Tina said: “Empire School of Boxing and Les’s support has meant the world to me – I wouldn’t be here without it as was considering ending my life. I’m not a gym person, but I heard about the service through a local mental health support group and it was came highly recommended.  

“I was extremely anxious entering the gym. It wasn’t really a place I thought I would ever go to, but Les and Margaret have made me feel so welcome, supported, and I’m starting to see the health benefits of working out too. I can’t thank them enough – they’ve changed my life for the better and I’m still here to support my boys.”

Carl, a local man who is living with depression, attends to the gym every now and then to better support his mental health. Carl’s wife said,

“I’ve got the Carl I married back – I can’t thank you enough for helping Carl.”

Michael, who also benefited from help from attending the gym commented

“Empire School of Boxing’s Passport to Wellness course has made a huge difference to my life, and the lives of many others. The instructor, Les, is a real inspiration. He has helped me a lot to get my life back on track while also learning how to box. A massive thank you from me.”

For more information about Empire School of Boxing, you can visit their facebook page. The sessions at the gym are free and you can either be referred by your GP or book onto sessions directly by emailing or visiting our website  

Northumberland VCSE Mental Health Alliance

Empire School of Boxing is part-funded through the Passport to Wellness, as part of the Voluntary Community Social Enterprise (VCSE) Mental Health Alliance to help local people with their mental health recovery.  

VCSE Mental Health Alliance is part of the community mental health transformation for Northumberland and facilitated by Northumberland Recovery College. 

We’re proud to be the lead partner for the VCSE Mental Health Alliance, and we look forward to sharing more about the fantastic programmes being offered. 

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