How a Preston dad went from a life of gang crime to being a boxing coach and working with Safety Guide Foundation to help reduce knife crime in the city
Following a knife crime epidemic in Preston, Safety Guide Foundation is working in the community to raise awareness and take preventative measures amongst the city’s youngsters.
Stuart Maddox has been an anti-bullying ambassador and motivational speaker for Safety Guide Foundation for the past 18 months and coaches boxing at Larches and Savick Boxing club.
The 39-year-old had spent his childhood moving around children’s homes in Preston, Chorley and Blackburn, and as a result ‘got into the wrong crowd.’But determined to ensure his own children had a better upbringing, he channelled his energy into boxing professionally and wants to use his experiences to guide youngsters in the right direction.
Stuart says: “Statistically, someone with my upbringing is meant to fail in life, but I didn’t want that to be the case for me.“I started boxing and it got me on the right path. I started when I was 11 but as soon as I got settled anywhere, I had to move.
“I was made to feel like I was worthless and I was bullied.“I became involved in gangs. I was misguided and got involved with the wrong people. I would latch onto people who I thought were my friends but they weren’t.“I was groomed into fighting and that is what happens a lot today. Youngsters are groomed by older people to do their dirty work for them and putting themselves at risk.”
Stuart attempted to move on, as he joined the army at the age of 17 and patrolled Northern Ireland with the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment.He left after four years, aged 21 but his experiences left a serious mark on him, as he was involved in the Omagh bombing in August 1998.
He recalls: “I had to move the bodies. There were 29 people who died, including a woman who was pregnant with twins.“It is not something I have really spoken about but it really hit home three weeks after the bombing when I saw the photos of all the victims in the newspaper. Every year on the anniversary, it affects me.”
After leaving the army, Stuart became self employed, working for Groundwork. But his problems persisted as he continued to hang out with the wrong crowd.He says: “I was bitter and angry about my upbringing, as it was part of the reason for my bullying. Even when I joined Groundwork I was immature and got involved in stupid stuff.”
But five years ago, Stuart, who had three children, managed to turn his life around.
He says: “I didn’t want my children to grow up the way I did. I got into legalised professional boxing around two-and-a-half years ago. That turned my life around even more as it gave me a purpose and something to focus on.“I began concentrating on coaching at Larches, especially children with ADHD and autism and encouraging people not to give up on them and to spend time with them.”
Through his role at Safety Guide Foundation, Stuart is now focusing on knife crime awareness.
He adds: “I believe a direct approach with youngsters and mentoring them can help.“Knowing what I have gone through, they listen to me. We go into schools and I have heard how we have made a positive impact.“We have spoken to pupils on the verge of being kicked out of school and told them about our lives and how we were perceived, showing them it doesn’t need to be that way.”