Having spent ten years working with gangs and disadvantaged youth, one question George Turner gets asked a lot is ‘How do you get a young person out of a gang?’
His response is straightforward: ‘Give them a new gang to get involved with.’
With this simple premise in mind, Balham-based Mr Turner, 35, and his partner Mark Reigate, 42, established Carney’s Community.
Carney’s Community is a south London charity offering youth from difficult backgrounds an escape from a cycle of crime and unemployment through positive activities like boxing and fitness training as well as long-term mentoring.
Mr Turner said: “Our aim is to give young people the opportunity to be the best that they can be, creating something for young people to belong to and to try and reduce antisocial behaviour.”
Their ever increasing list of success stories is testimony to the effectiveness of their methods, including one young male who went from being shot in the shoulder at point blank range to a third year law student in just a few years.
Mr Turner said: “What we find is that a lot of the people we work with, especially the ones who get in trouble are people that are quite creative and it’s just that they are demonstrating their creativity in a negative way.”
Mr Turner initially joined Wandsworth and Lambeth councils to work on the Intense Supervision and Surveillance Project in 2002.
Where over a six-month period he would spend twenty five hours a week with a young offender in a bid to help them establish a life on the straight and narrow.
But he found just as he gained their trust, their time together would be up.
Disappointed that the six months of support wasn’t having lasting effects, Mr Turner began to continue mentoring the troubled juveniles after they were officially signed off the project and found that the consistency gained real results.
He began taking some of the young males to train with celebrated boxing coach Mick Carney (1935-2011) who worked with the likes of David Haye at Fitzroy Lodge, Waterloo.
In 2011 when Mr Carney passed away, Mr Turner and Mr Reigate decided it was time to take the next step and establish a charity in honour of their own mentor.
Four years on, Carney’s Community has its own centre in Battersea where they have a gym and boxing facilities, music studio and café all run by previous beneficiaries of the support and mentoring offered by the charity.
The majority of the qualified trainers who work both full time and on a voluntary basis at the centre have been in the shoes of those they are now helping.
While the youth referred for the courses are not expected to pay for the charity’s services, they are expected to eventually contribute whether that be financially, with employment opportunities or by taking on their own mentees when they are back on their feet, they call it their ‘virtuous cycle’.
Life at Carney’s Community can be tough as the boxing and the trainers demand discipline.
Mr Turner insists that while people can be ejected from activities, no one is banned from the centre.
He asserts that he has seen more effective rehabilitation work in boxing clubs than in most youth programmes.
During the London riots in 2011, Mr Reigate, who at the time was working at Fitzroy Lodge, called each of the young people he was coaching to ensure that they would be coming in for training and not taking part in the disturbances.
Sid Khan at Earlsfield ABC Boxing Club, who Mr Turner describes as a ‘father figure’ to the young people he works with, organises a two hour run every Christmas Day for those who have a troubled family life.
Carney’s is open to all members of the community and anyone is welcome to join their public boxing sessions for £5 or sign up for personal training sessions with the team.
Image courtesy of Carney’s Community, with thanks