Astley Sports Village is based at Rayner Stephens’s academy in Tameside. It hosts a variety of health, fitness and sports sessions suitable for all ages and abilities.
One of the centre’s greatest success stories is its girls-only boxing class. Prior to the pandemic, they learned the pupils at the school wanted to access girl’s only boxing classes. The classes were then developed and added to the timetable of activities for pupils. However, when the Covid-19 crisis hit, changes needed to be made to keep the sessions running and providing physical and mental health support to teenagers in the region.
Strong beginnings and changing strategy
‘We applied for Greater Manchester satellite club funding in 2019’, says Mark Storie, Director of Astley Sports Village. ‘With the support of GreaterSport, we were awarded the money and began to run girls-only boxing sessions every Wednesday evening. There were around 12 girls aged from 13 – 17 attending weekly. It worked really well, and we soon became a sustainable club in our own right.’
When the pandemic hit and lockdown restrictions were imposed, the girls’ boxing sessions suddenly ground to a halt. ‘It was impossible to abide by the ‘no close contact’ rule – you simply can’t social distance with boxing,’ Mark explains. ‘But I knew the classes could not just stop running.’ In lockdown, physical activity for most people became significantly reduced, which worried Mark. ’11-18 year-olds were becoming the iPad generation. They needed much more than the minimum recommended exercise set by the government, and we didn’t want to lose the momentum we’d gained with the boxing classes,’ says Mark. ‘It was time to think of a new approach.’
Securing funding and moving online
Mark spoke with the team at GreaterSport and, with the backing of the Greater Manchester satellite club funding, created the Girls Virtual Boxercise programme. ‘Through GreaterSport, we were able to get funding for ten sets of pads and gloves to send out to the girls on the programme free of charge,’ says Mark. ‘This meant that, once the girls had signed up for the sessions, they could keep the equipment they needed to take part at home.’
As the pads and gloves had been provided, Mark was keen to make sure the girls kept up with the sessions. ‘We set a minimum number of weekly sessions to join,’ he explains. ‘Yet we also encouraged parents to feedback on progress throughout the week. To safeguard our attendees at all times, we asked parents to be present and share feedback, photos and videos securely via our private YouTube channel.’
Sharing support and family activities
Parental input has been vital to running the online classes safely. Yet wider family involvement has also been one of the most rewarding parts of the virtual sessions. ‘Of course, as the girls were taking part at home, we knew they were training safely within social distancing guidelines by boxing as a family unit’, says Mark. ‘But it’s the shared engagement and family bonding that’s been incredible to see. Through photos, videos and stories, we’ve seen the girls staying active and encouraging their family members to join them.’
‘Dad and daughter bonding through boxing has been one of most positive outcomes,’ continues Mark. ‘It’s certainly been a sport that both these family members can enjoy equally, and there are some great stories to share. One that stands out for me is a 14 year-old girl who was being badly bullied. She began to train boxing with her dad to help relieve stress and manage anxiety. Both of them are now gym members together, and say the workouts are helping to support them physically and mentally.’
Making plans and ongoing engagement
The success stories have prompted Mark to consider family boxercise sessions in the short, mid, or even long-term. ‘The collective enjoyment has been incredible to see, and stresses the importance of physical activity at all ages,’ Mark says. ‘Drop out rates in secondary school sports are so high that keeping teenagers engaged in crucial. A physical activity that is seen as ‘cool’ that meets active level needs whilst involving others is what this boxing programme has truly delivered.’
Mark is optimistic but realistic about the future of the sessions. ‘I can’t see us training back on site again in 2020 due to Covid-19,’ he admits. ‘While the guidelines remain that there should be no close-contact sport, it’s brilliant that we’ve been able to run these online sessions to bridge the gap and keep the girls engaged until we can train in person together again.’
Find out more about the boxercise sessions by visiting https://astleysportsvillage.co.uk/
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How Rayner Stephens’s Academy has adapted their physical activity provision to work remotely during the coronavirus pandemic
A refresh of GM Moving is planned for 2021. We need to refresh, refocus, re-energise and adapt our collective approach in the context of the pandemic, inequalities and for the long term future.