Butetown boxing club turns into a free tuition centre for every kid

Butetown is one of the poorest areas in Cardiff. How does a volunteer teacher make the most of a boxing club to help the children with their school performance?

Kids as young as eight years old are welcome to join the boxing session at Tiger Bay Amateur Boxing Club.

Open the front door of the boxing club, there is a young man in sports clothing sitting in the reception. Go straight and then turn right. Open the door, Lauren Cole wears a black shirt and skirt. She is not here to exercise. Instead, she comes to teach the kids in Butetown, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Cardiff.

The volunteer teacher is preparing for the upcoming lesson before the kids arrive. Another commitment for Lauren is being a full-time teacher at school, which means that she has to teach at the boxing club after her full day of work. “I’m trying to do it at least once a week. I can do more, if the students need it, then I will,” says Lauren. However, this is also a commitment with personal sacrifice. “Sometimes, I’m quite tired after work”, she says.

Six kids are talking unstoppably while Lauren is distributing folders with their names on them. However, Lauren knows how to grab their attention. “Can you please give me an example of …” Lauren won’t forget to engage anyone of her students.

Tiger Bay Amateur Boxing Club (Tiger Bay ABC) has been running since 2018. It was an initiative by Wasim Said, to provide a venue for children to spend their time and learn about boxing and discipline. It was not until last September that Lauren started the free tuition class.

Lauren says that Tiger Bay ABC had been providing food parcels to the community during the lockdown. “That’s the kind of feeling like ‘I can do my bit. How could I help as well?’ ” says Lauren.

After a session on nutrition, students spend their time collaging.

Butetown had the highest levels of child poverty in Cardiff, according to a report published in 2019. Ranking the fifth highest in Wales, 46% of the children growing up in this council ward were in poverty. 

“The people kind of don’t do anything with their life. That’s one of the main issues in this community. People, if they’re not educated, they feel like they have nothing else to do,” says Laith Wareth, a volunteer worker at Tiger Bay ABC.

Butetown has had a negative reputation from people outside the community, according to Laith. “Butetown is known for having high crime or poverty area. What comes with that would just be like hate crimes, minor crimes,” says Laith.

There were around 200 crimes every month in Butetown, from July to November 2021, according to a report. The problem of drug use has been getting worse as community groups said that there was an increase in discarded needles.

There are two boxing sessions based on the age of the students.

To tackle the social issues and counter the stigma associated with poverty and crime in the area, Laith believes the key is to educate the youth. “If we can pave a way for them to succeed, defend themselves, the ones who come after, it won’t be as hard for them,” says Laith.

Over the past four years, Tiger Bay ABC has already brought some changes to the community. Saad Mohamed, a boxer at Tiger Bay, says that the boxing club had changed his life. “It took me out of my comfort zone. I used to be a shy kid back then. But then they taught me how to speak to people, how to communicate with people, how to respect them. That all helped my mental health and made me more comfortable than I was,” says Saad.

After about 10 minutes of the tuition class, the door of the classroom is pushed open. A lady arrives holding the hand of a little girl. After a quick chat with Lauren, the lady leaves and the girl becomes one of Lauren’s students. She gets the girl seated and gives her a new folder and booklet. Lauren says that she has regular students at Tiger Bay ABC, but new students are still joining the class. “ We’ve never turned anyone away,” says Lauren.

The new girl is sitting quietly to listen and write down the answers on the booklet. Later in the session, students draw a collage featuring places in Butetown. “I’m drawing a galaxy,” one girl says. “Me too,” the new girl says.

Lauren is also a full-time science teacher.

“I’m helping them in so many different things, academically as in their literacy skills, numeracy skills. But I’m also helping them socially. It’s nice for them all to get together, and maybe speak to students that they don’t know, they meet new friends,” says Lauren.

Lauren will keep teaching amidst all odds. “The students that come, want to be here,” she says. “They enjoy it, which means I enjoy it.”

Every kid finishes the tuition class with a unique collage.

(Updated 16 Apr 2022)