Boxing – what has it got to do with us?

I’m back and refreshed after a couple of weeks off blogging, and a week off work. Summer always used to be a time when things went quieter and the pace of work slowed down. Except for perhaps meetings being a bit thinner on the ground there is little sign of that, and operationally WYFRS continues to be busy as does the research and discussions behind our efficiencies options programme. We are also starting to get a certain feel for the complete uncertainty of the political world that exists around the local devolution issue which I have blogged about in the past, and will surely blog about again. The times they are a changing – that’s for sure!

It was also an opportunity to reflect on some of the feedback received about my blog, and I’ll make a few changes to reflect that – mainly in the style perhaps being a little more conversational on occasions. Thank you to everyone who has fed back so positively about the blog – I am listening.

It was my privilege on Friday to attend Stanningley Fire Station to witness, and be part of,  the celebration event that concluded the week long ‘Get Started With Boxing’ week which was delivered in partnership with the Princes Trust. 14 young people from a variety of backgrounds had the opportunity to work with some of our staff to learn about (amongst other things) self discipline, teamwork, healthy and nutritional eating, first aid, personal responsibility and fitness – all with the background of  boxing skills.

The celebration event was an opportunity for the young people involved to showcase to their parents, friends and carers, staff from the Princes Trust, Cllr Dunbar from the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority, fire officers and others from the community safety network in West Yorkshire exactly what they had achieved. I can well understand that this was daunting for many of them, particularly as the event was as much about talking to a large group as it was about demonstrating their boxing and fitness skills. They delivered spectacularly in just the same way as they delivered throughout the week long course. It is of massive significance that of the 14 young people that started on Monday morning, every single one of them was there at the end on Friday afternoon with a beaming smile on their face, having attended every session, on every day. Many of them face, on a day to day basis, a whole range of issues which make that achievement quite extraordinary in itself. Listening to them speak during the event was genuinely inspirational, and I know it bought a tear to the eye of a couple of rough and tough people in the room. I can’t quote their words exactly as I was so focussed and enthralled about what they had to say and how they went about saying it that I didn’t write it down. However, one of the guys on the course committed to stopping smoking there and then now that he better understands the effect that it has on his health and the danger it presents in terms of fire. Others spoke about (and recognised) the importance of the transferable skills that they had picked up during the week, and one parent remarked that they hadn’t seen their child in such a positive light in 25 years! Of course there is more, plenty more, and I hope that each and everyone of them takes something positive from the week that helps them to achieve more and be healthier and safer in their future life.

For us as a service, it was a risk. Without dwelling on the issue, some of the young people involved have less than straightforward, and often very challenging backgrounds. Encouraging boxing on a fire station goes against the grain, and working with partners to deliver the course – the first time that such a course has been delivered like this – brings with it a risk to our reputation in terms of the range of activities that we are prepared to get involved with. Many I know, will ask what value such a course adds when we are scrutinising every pound that we spend in these increasingly austere times – hence the title of this blog.

For me it was a risk worth taking, and one that will help to shape our future service delivery. The fact that the course was so successful is, of course, a huge benefit. In some way it’s a demonstration of how we need to, and can, vary and adapt what we do to increase the relevance of the fire and rescue service in the community. As I have said many times if we rely on the decreasing number of emergency incidents to keep us relevant to the community then we are on a slippery slope – in my opinion. Taking risks, and doing things differently, comes hand in hand with the change that we are going through.

The 90 minutes at Stanningley, and the opportunity to speak with some of the young people, reinforced just how much difference we can make to young peoples lives. Those young people are faced with choices on a daily basis, choices that will shape them as members of the community, and choices that will affect the community which we serve. If we can influence them to make positive, and safe, choices and to respect the role of the Fire & Rescue Service then surely that has to be a good thing. Healthy lifestyles help to make safe communities.

There are naysayers within our service, I’m more than aware of that. It is important that we scrutinise our spend and look to protect the front line emergency response service. But we are about more than that, and we will continue to be. The ‘value added’ activities are often achieved by the utilisation of partnership funding and other sources of income. They become ‘as well as’ rather than ‘instead of’. Of course we have done a range of youth activities for many years now, and have been very successful at it. We will continue to deliver those activities but will also look to expand the range too.

I’m immensely grateful to everyone involved in setting up and delivering the course. I acknowledge their vision and commitment.  I heard some of the comments that the young people made to them on Friday and I hope that they are rightly proud of the difference that they have made.

The line on the back of the team t-shirts was “I’m gonna show you how great I am” – without doubt everyone involved, either as a member of staff or as a participant, did that last week.

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