In this interview on The Logros Show – in association with The Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce – Lee Dinsdale talks to Gwen Richards, non contact boxing fitness coach from Fighting Talk, about the synergy between boxing training and mental health.
Interview with Gwen Richards at Unity Radio – The Real Sound of the City.
Lee: Good afternoon. My name is Lee and this is the Logros Show in association with the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce only on Unity Radio – The Real Sound of The City. We are broadcasting live here from Media City UK. I’m here with Gwen Richards who is the founder of Fighting Spirit. I know you have got some shout outs to do before we get into the story.
Gwen: I want to shout out to my mum Pauline in Failsworth, brother Paul, some great friends, Paul, Kev, Mathew, Tom, my ever suffering business partner Nige. Also Robin who is here with me today, SJ and all my friends and family who have supported me over the last couple of years.
Lee: Tell us about Fighting Spirit.
Gwen: I founded Fighting Spirit in 2017 following my own journey of realising that things weren’t working out the way I wanted them too. I just felt that I had lost any sense of purpose and it was a friend of mine who was a boxer who advised that if I started boxing training, it would be amazing both for my physical and mental health. I thought, to be honest- not likely! I didn’t know much about boxing, wasn’t really interested and I just had this lightbulb moment and I thought you know what, that sounds like a good idea. So I literally googled how to become a boxing fitness coach. Ricky Hatton’s academy came up first; I thought well I’ve heard of him, everyone’s heard of Ricky who is a fantastic world class boxer. I rang up and told them what I wanted to achieve, that I wanted to teach people boxing. Two weeks later I rocked up there and there were twenty three of us. They were all boxers, martial arts experts, personal trainers and then little old me! I thought oh my god but I did it, I took to it, passed everything and that’s where my journey began!
Lee: When did you set up the company?
Gwen: It was set up in August 2017 but we became a community interest company last April. That’s when Nige Salter came on as my business partner.
Lee: I’ve been looking on the website in preparation for this conversation. Tell us about some of the services, what can you actually come to Fighting Spirit to do?
Gwen: The core of our service is based around non-contact boxing fitness training and I do that in groups. I’m engaged with community groups and I do it with charities. I work with personal clients on a one to one basis. However from that what has developed is our Fighting Talk sessions. Because of my background in training and development I combine that with my experience on mental health and I go into companies and I do management health awareness, employee mental health awareness and we can throw in a bit of boxing if they want.
Lee: Who are the sessions open to? Some people listening may be thinking, oh I’m not too sure if that’s for me.
Gwen: All age groups. I’ve had a little toddler, four, five, I have gloves for them and I’ve had more mature people. I have had amazing results of all ages. One guy in particular I’m thinking of in his late teens, incredible.
Lee: What are some of impacts that you see and can you think, without giving any names or confidentiality away any kind of case studies so to speak of change?
Gwen: One young guy in particular sticks in my mind. His parents were at their wits end and when he came to me he would not even look at me, he wouldn’t speak. Fast forward just a few weeks and he is like a different person – it’s just wonderful.
Lee: Could you tell us what was the kind of change over from you doing your own boxing to then decide to do your own thing? What was the trigger so to speak?
Shortly after I qualified at the Hatton Academy, I continued my training and I realised the amazing impact it had on my mental health and how much clearer my mind was. I was a lot more motivated and I thought, I could be on to something here.
I had a little open day and the name Fighting Spirit came about through a friend actually. I started working with clients on quite a small scale but started to see the benefits for them. Then a family friend, Nige Salter who is my business partner and who has been involved in business for many years and who has also suffered with stress. He really related to what I wanted to be doing and I realised actually this is where I could maybe help people and that’s when we registered the company as a community interest company. We trademarked the name and I have been working on developing it since.
Lee: I probably want to talk more about the mental health side of things, but this is also about entrepreneurship. Can you give us a quick tip on setting up a company? From your experience what would you say to someone who is looking to do that?
Gwen: Have a sense of humour and be able to juggle lots of plates!
Lee: Plate spinning definitely! What was your inspiration?
Gwen: I think really in how well I felt, direct personal experience, lived experience. Also my drive and passion as well to support other people.
Lee: I think there is a theory that the reason volunteering and helping other people is so effective, is because it stops you in those moments thinking about yourself too much. Therefore when you focus on another person it diverts the attention, then you are not always potentially saying oh why is this happening to me or why haven’t I got this. So you are always focussing on other people and here at Unity Radio we are a big believer in contributing and helping other people. That’s why we have invited you in to hear your story. What are the plans for the future of Fighting Spirit? It’s obviously going from strength to strength.
Gwen: Yes it is. We have actually pitched to the NHS some months ago and we have had four trusts interested. We are very keen to go down the path of being a social prescription. It’s still in its infancy but it is being recognised more and more that we should be offering different pastimes or hobbies. People can do gardening or swimming and we want to be part of that.
I am talking directly with doctors surgeries around Greater Manchester to actually work directly with them.
Lee: Yes to get a referral? So potentially when they come in to get an appointment that they go to you rather than go to the NHS?
Gwen: Well for example the doctor, within his budget he could say well actually rather than refer you for therapy here is the programme of Fighting Spirit.
Lee: In the evenings with our youth projects that we do within the radio station we have a similar thing where we are speaking to the NHS. Alternative therapy, if you can measure the impact which you can clearly do because you can physically see the change in people, is a great way to improve mental health. Going to the NHS isn’t appropriate for everybody is that right?
Gwen: The thing is it wouldn’t work for everybody, but it would work for some. It’s about a person finding their own thing that will help them with their mental and physical health. Just to tag on to that we have had a meeting with the Manchester Mental Health Research Centre and Dr Amy Blakemore is very keen and has done some work already with a company in Stockport called In Your Corner. They are doing great things because they also believe that boxing training is wonderful for mental health.
Lee: We are going to come on to why it works in a moment but first of all, is there a special news article out today?
Gwen: Yes. It’s actually a premium article by Sam Hancock the wonderful journalist and it’s in the Independent. Sam interviewed myself and two of my clients to find out why it has helped them. He also interviewed Dr Amy Blakemore and Dr Andrew Iles who works with the Priory.
Lee: Now we are going to get into the science as to why it works.
Gwen: I have my theory which seems to be shared by various people. Your mind can often control you and that’s where it can get dangerous as far as that the thoughts can create low mood, anxiety and stress. When you are boxing you have to be completely mentally focused. If you are not, you will injure yourself or the trainer.
For that forty-five minutes, an hour, you literally take control of your own thoughts again. That can be really powerful in regaining control of your mind in general, it proves that you can do it and is very empowering.
As I said before about Dr Amy Blakemore we are hopefully going to be involved in research on a wider scale and collate the evidence as to why it is so powerful.
Lee: Being more in control of your thoughts or your actions, so you are taking away your mind from running away from you which goes into a series of negative thoughts which can make things even worse. When you are in control of your mind and focussing on your actions it is mindful, is that right? Explain a little bit more about how mindfulness is also relevant in boxing training.
Gwen: Because you are actually in the moment, you have to be, you are focussed, you are there. You are not thinking about before, you are not thinking about later, you are actually in the moment, so in effect and essence it is like mindfulness through exercise.
Lee: Also there are theories within improving wellbeing, improving capability and skills and you can tangibly see the difference with boxing, would that be right?
Gwen: Absolutely. Often with my clients many of the comments that I get after one, two or three sessions is they say, if you would have told me before I came that I would be boxing, and I’ve learnt some boxing moves and I’m actually doing it then, wow I just would not have thought I could do this. So it’s brilliant for a confidence boost and is very empowering.
Lee: Okay just to summarise, boxing keeps you in the present moment, you are in control of your mind and also improving your skills and learning something new. It’s a great advocate for improving mental health. On your fighting talk sessions you have some tips now on how to deal with being overwhelmed. What kind of tips do you share in your talks when you go in to businesses for employees?
Gwen: The thing to do in a very quick summary is to break down whatever is overpowering you and take things into small chunks. It’s very easy to look at whatever we are going through in life or whatever challenges we face, as this huge mountain. So if we break that down into small chunks and tackle each bit, it then becomes less overwhelming, less scary. I heard an analogy the other day that was really good, and it was how you eat an elephant – bit by bit. It’s true, I always imagine you eat an elephant with a teaspoon and then you get through it eventually.
Lee: Okay so that’s the top tip in dealing with feeling overwhelmed but you also deliver sessions on improving personal resilience . What would be some practical tips for people listening that you would share in your fighting talk sessions?
Gwen: There are a few different factors involved but I would say one of the main things is to take responsibility for your own health, physical and mental. Look at what works for you as far as taking care of yourself. That could be diet, exercise and sleep. If you live a wild lifestyle it’s not going to have a great impact.
Lee: I think it is taking responsibility. It is surprising when you get into discussions with people about mental health and wellbeing and you ask the question, how are you helping yourself in the first instance, not as many people are doing things like you are describing to help themselves. Would that be right?
Gwen: Absolutely. For example if you broke your leg you wouldn’t go for a run. You would take care of it take responsibility for it.
With mental health it is exactly the same and they both work hand in hand. It’s about taking care of your mental health and finding what works for you.
Lee: Brilliant so top tips there from you Gwen. Where is Fighting Spirit based?
Gwen: North Manchester. The website is www.fightingspirit.org.uk. We are on Twitter which is fightinginshq, Instagram, fightingspirithq and Facebook, fightingspirithq. Other than that ring my mobile which is also out there.
Lee: We are going to finish the show as we always do with the strapline of the show which is achieving excellence and excellence being the very best you can be or in business. In your opinion Gwen how do you believe you achieve excellence?
Gwen: I think this can mean different things to different people, but for myself I am achieving excellence because I’ve turned a real corner in my life. I feel like I’m living my life now and getting a lot more out of it but also most importantly I feel now that now my purpose is to help and support other people, which is what I am doing.
Lee: Okay, brilliant. Thanks very much for coming in and you were going also to announce some events about raising money.
Gwen: Yes also at fighting spirit one of our goals is that we hold events maybe once a year. We have one coming up soon this year. We are going to have a panel of people talking about mental health experiences at the same time we will be raising funds doing an auction. We did one last year at Seven Brothers in Ancoats, great guys, again a success story. They are doing really well so keep your eyes peeled people for Fighting Spirit events.
Lee: A quick recap on the website.
Lee: Brilliant. Thank you very much for coming in.
Article Transcription by Terry Capostagno
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