Doon Valley Boxing Club

– in the Scottish Parliament on 8th December 2016.

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Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-02537, in the name of Brian Whittle, on Doon valley boxing club. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the success of Doon Valley Boxing Club in Dalmellington; understands that the club attracts members from across Ayrshire and that some of those who train there have gone on to compete at a national level; believes that local sports clubs play a hugely important role in their communities, by providing positive opportunities for young people, improving physical and mental health, reducing antisocial behaviour and helping to improve performance in school; recognises the vital contribution that volunteers play in sustaining such clubs and commend them for their hard work, and wishes community sports clubs across Scotland, including Doon Valley Boxing Club, continued success.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

During my recent visit to Dalmellington, the Doon valley boxing club was brought to my attention as being a really positive influence in the local community. The club invited me for a visit and—because the lift does not always go to the top floor, where I am concerned—I decided to bring my training kit with me and take part in a session. I went in with a plan: I joined in with the under-12 age group. However, as that great educator Iron Mike Tyson once said:

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

After a shadow boxing session and six two-minute rounds of hitting the pads, followed by circuits, I left the building in a wheelbarrow. I will turn my speech up the right way—that will help.

Under the tutelage of head trainer Sam Mullen, what the club has achieved for a community that does not have to seek its own challenges is quite remarkable. With local facilities closing down, he took it upon himself to start the club 13 years ago in a garage. He now runs a weight-training gym and boxing gym from an industrial unit in the town. To say that the club is busy is an understatement. He trains children and young people of all ages and the club is open all day and in the evening. Everybody in the community knows about the club. When I arrived, the youngest age group were in training, and I listened to Mr Mullen drilling into them the importance of healthy eating. Many of the parents were next door in the weight-training room, working out after dropping off their children at the club. The enthusiasm from Sam, the parents and the youngsters was fantastic to see.

It may be hard for my fellow parliamentarians to hear this, but the brutal reality is that the members of that club will not listen to advice that we give from the chamber, but they will listen with complete attention to Mr Mullen and his trainee coaches, because they speak directly to the members’ enthusiasms and aspirations. In these times, when we hear about children’s increasing inactivity, obesity and poor mental health, we need to acknowledge in our communities local champions and the impact that they have—which, to be frank, Parliament cannot begin to replicate.

Third and voluntary sector organisations are by far best placed to create a feeling of community and inclusivity through activity. We cannot impose solutions, but we can and should support our sports’ governing bodies and councils, which can in turn ensure that community initiatives such as Doon valley boxing club are properly resourced and financed so that they can open up opportunities and choices for people, irrespective of their backgrounds or personal circumstances. Kids want to participate, but they can do so only if the opportunities are there for them.

The sense of community pride, parental pride and personal pride among members of the club is there for all to see, and that collective pride speaks to the health and wellbeing of the community. If we are serious about tackling the rise in inactivity, increasing health inequality, the widening attainment gap, the rise in poor mental health, the obesity crisis and the rise in type 2 diabetes, musculoskeletal conditions and heart and lung conditions, we need look no further than the example that is set by Doon valley boxing club.

In my view, sport is consistently undervalued and underfunded in this country. Sportscotland works with a budget of £34 million to represent the one in five of the population who are members of sports clubs across all sports. What other portfolio delivers to so many people in our nation with such a small budget? Sports’ governing bodies are being ever more stretched in delivering world-class sports opportunities through the club system, which is the lifeblood of Scottish sport and which is so often a centre of community activity.

We should not forget that—as the medical profession continually tells us—inclusivity and physical and mental activity are major solutions in the treatment and prevention of poor mental health. That applies not only to participants but to the army of coaches, officials and administrators who tirelessly keep the club system alive. I hope that the budget statement next week recognises the crucial part that sport plays in our nation’s health and wellbeing as well as its ability to build that important sense of community. We should also recognise the long-term positive impact on the health budget and on education, welfare and social behaviour.

With the aspiration and perspiration of the youngsters, the joy of participation and of getting fit, learning movement skills and developing self-awareness, self-control and confidence—all of which are eminently transferable skills—Doon valley boxing club ably demonstrates what is possible when the will exists.

My favourite quotation is from Henry Ford, who said:

“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”

Sam Mullen, his training staff and the parents and community of Dalmellington certainly believe that they can. What they have achieved, and continue to achieve, for the local community is a shining example of what is possible. We need to seek out, recognise and support all the Sam Mullens and Doon valley boxing clubs in every community around the country who give so much of their time to help others. I wish the club every success in the future, and I promise that I will see the club soon for another training session—if they just give me a little time to get a bit fitter.

Photo of Fulton MacGregor Fulton MacGregor Scottish National Party

I thank Brian Whittle for bringing the issue to the chamber and for giving me the opportunity to speak on it. I also say well done to Doon valley boxing club for being acknowledged by Brian Whittle in the chamber.

I will not pretend to be an expert on boxing, but when I saw that the debate was on the agenda, I felt that I had to speak in it because my constituency of Coatbridge and Chryston—in particular, the Coatbridge part—has a very rich history in boxing.

Members may know that Ricky Burns, the current world number 1 World Boxing Association super-lightweight title holder, former World Boxing Organization super-featherweight title holder and WBO lightweight title holder, is from Coatbridge. He is the first person from Scotland to hold three boxing world titles—which we in Coatbridge are very proud of. This month, he won the inspirational performance award at the Scottish sport awards.

I want to talk about a place that is very similar to the Doon valley boxing club and helped to produce Ricky Burns—the Bannan fitness club in Coatbridge. Rab Bannan is a well-known face in Coatbridge and has, with his family, including Peter and Chris, put 40 years of his life into the Barn boxing club. He has put a lot of time into the local people of Coatbridge and is recognised by parliamentarians, councillors, police officers and the community at large as a positive influence on generations of young people in the area. He is well respected and loved by the people of the town and has produced greats such as Lawrence Murphy and, of course, Ricky Burns.

The Bannan fitness club—like Doon valley boxing club, by the sound of it—is an example of how a poor community can come together and better itself. With only the financial support of an annual community grant and small membership fees to pay its rent, it puts everything it has straight back into the club. At its heart, it offers an alternative to a life of alcohol, drugs and vandalism and to the culture of unemployment. The club teaches discipline, life skills, and positive mental and physical health. It can give the most vulnerable people in society an identity, a sense of purpose and a place in the community. As can be seen by the couple of examples that I gave, it can change lives quite dramatically.

The club has a wide range of participants, including five to 11-year-olds—boys and girls—teenagers and adults. It probably has about 50 or 60 active members. More than that, though, there is community engagement. In the past year alone, I have attended two events that the club has put on at its base at the Langloan health and fitness centre, where it has brought the community together with kids events, including face painting and football games. There was a Rangers versus Celtic game on the big pitch. The events not only brought the community together but raised a phenomenal amount of money for charities—the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society and Crohn’s and Colitis UK. They were fantastic days and both of them were mobbed.

Rab Bannan himself has been recognised for his outstanding achievements in the world of boxing. In November 2015, he was awarded the BBC “Get Inspired” unsung hero award. The boxing club is a great example of community engagement in the Coatbridge and Chryston area. Ricky Burns is an example of a Coatbridge boy done good and shows how lives can be changed by community involvement and by selfless and dedicated volunteers giving themselves to their community for most of their lives.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

I congratulate Brian Whittle on securing this debate on the Doon valley boxing club and support his commendation of the club. I apologise to the chamber for having to leave after speaking, to meet constituents.

That the Doon valley boxing club attracts members—male and female—from throughout Ayrshire is recognition and an achievement in itself. That the club attracts people from across south-west Scotland, prepared to make the 110-mile round trip from Stranraer and elsewhere, is little short of extraordinary and should be a source of pride to the club officials.

Although I do not believe that I know Sam Mullen, his reputation travels before him. From all that I have read about him, he is obviously the driving force behind the club’s success, and success does not come easily in Dalmellington, originally an Ayrshire mining village in the Doon valley. Life was hard and for real every day for that mining and rural community. It is close to Patna, a similar village, where boys became men very quickly, and employment historically was either down the pits or on the farms. There is little difference between them, both types of work being at best back breaking. The major difference is that one is below ground and the other is in the open air. Barrhill, where I grew up, was a village not unlike Dalmellington, but without the coal.

When Doon valley amateur boxing club started in Dalmellington 13 years ago, it did so in a post-mining era and in an area where life was and remains, hard. Opencast pits have come and gone, replacing traditional mining in East Ayrshire, and although some remain, the communities of Bellsbank, Logan, Cumnock, New Cumnock, Rankinston, Drongan and Dalrymple, to name but a few, have a tradition of extracting a hard-fought living from what is at best a difficult environment and sometimes a downright dangerous and hostile one. The Doon valley boxing club, however, offers hope. It is little wonder, then, that the Doon valley boxing club has prospered in its 13 years of existence. It is little wonder that the club has so engaged with the wider Ayrshire community and little wonder that it has been so successful.

Success, of course, can be measured in several ways. First, let us acknowledge that that Dalmellington boxing club has produced a youth Commonwealth bronze medallist, which is a very real achievement. Brian Whittle, of all people, knows how hard it is to do that, with or without footwear. The club has also brought forward 30 young Scottish and six British champions in the past, and most recently we have a new group of talented young people, as reported by Mike Wilson in the

Daily Record in February of this year, when a gold medal was won by Donny McPike in the Scottish intermediate championship at Ravenscraig. Silvers went to Keigan McGuire, Rhys Mitchell and Arran McGarvie, and they were coached by Sam Mullen and David McInally, and those current successes tell us that the club is in good heart and that its proud 13-year history is not just being maintained but built upon, that its future is secure and that it, and clubs like it across Ayrshire, will continue into the future. Alex and Carlyn Paton, who are sponsors of the club and whose fathers and grandfathers I know and knew, have wisely supported a club that embodies a gritty determination to succeed against the odds, and which improves the life chances of its members.

Clubs such as the Doon valley boxing club are a good example of what sports clubs across Scotland can achieve in terms of character building and development, even in this internet age, but they also demonstrate the value of inspired leadership and role models for those boys and girls to follow. Sam Mullen has provided that, and is now supported by David Mclnally and Billy McCubbin, and I congratulate them on their achievement and wish them well in the future.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

I echo the congratulations to Brian Whittle on bringing the motion before Parliament today and providing members with the opportunity to celebrate the outstanding work that community sports clubs do in our constituencies and regions.

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Whitletts activity centre in Ayr with Mr Whittle, who kindly asked me to be part of the MSP team in a power chair football match, along with John Scott, against the South Ayrshire Tigers. I will not tell members what the result was, but let us just say that Mr Whittle will not be repeating his European, Commonwealth or Olympic track success in the sport of power chair football, and John Scott and I will not be giving up our day jobs. Judging by Mr Whittle’s Twitter photos of him lying flat on his back in the ring at Doon valley boxing club, he probably will not be taking up boxing any time soon either.

However, when we met the players and coaches at South Ayrshire Tigers, and when Mr Whittle met the coach, Sam Mullen, and the kids at Doon valley boxing club, as we have heard, it showed that the work that our community sports clubs do really is truly inspirational. The boxing club in Dalmellington may be small in size and numbers, but it is clear that it is punching well above its weight. The club’s vision is to use the sport

“to change people’s lives, to improve communities and change a nation.”

As the motion before us highlights, that is exactly what sports clubs across all our communities do. Our sports clubs teach us incredibly important lessons about life, about the joy of triumph, but also about learning to be resilient when we lose, and to lose with grace—a bit like politics, I suppose. They also provide a platform for many fantastic volunteers to contribute to their local areas. They help young people to do well at school, they bring communities together with shared goals, strengthening local networks, reinforcing a sense of place and diverting young people away from crime, and they give a positive opportunity for young people to improve their physical and mental health, which has never been more important than it is today.

Since being elected to the Parliament in May, I have had the privilege of being Labour’s spokesperson on public health and social care, and of serving on the Health and Sport Committee. This week, the committee held a round-table discussion on obesity, which is probably the most pressing public health issue that Scotland faces today. Two thirds of Scotland’s adults are now classed as being overweight and, shamefully, almost a third of children are “at risk” of becoming overweight. Children are more likely to be overweight in Scotland than they are in any other part of the United Kingdom.

At the committee’s meeting, I raised the fact that there is a clear link between obesity and deprivation, particularly among women and children. A quarter of four and five-year-olds from the most deprived areas are at risk of being overweight compared with around 18 per cent of children of that age from the least deprived areas.

What does that mean for our nation’s health? We know that obesity contributes to a whole number of health issues: type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer, depression and anxiety, liver disease, osteoarthritis and back pain, asthma, reproductive complications and sleep apnoea. In fact, obesity reduces life expectancy by an average of three years, and severe obesity does so by between eight and 10 years.

Obesity does not have an impact only on our health. It is associated with worse employment outcomes and is a source of unacceptable discrimination for applicants in the workplace. It also impacts on our public finances. Estimates by the Scottish Government in 2007-08 suggested that overweight and obesity combined were responsible for healthcare costs of £312 million, which is more than £350 million at today’s prices.

Although addressing diet and calorie intake is the most effective way to tackle obesity, physical exercise is also crucial, and that is why our sports clubs are so important to our nation’s health and wellbeing. I therefore welcome the opportunity to debate the issue and to place on record my support for sports clubs across the south of Scotland and beyond. In particular, I would like to say thank you to the army of volunteers who make them happen.

As Brian Whittle said, we can do more than just express our support; we can provide practical help. I was elected to the Parliament on a manifesto that included a commitment to use the Barnett consequentials that would be raised from the so-called sugar tax to invest £40 million in after-school sports clubs. That is a positive measure that I will continue to pursue so that our sports clubs can continue to do their outstanding work in all our communities.

Photo of Rachael Hamilton Rachael Hamilton Conservative

I am delighted to be speaking in Brian Whittle’s sport-themed members’ business debate. I know from speaking to Mr Whittle that Doon valley boxing club packs a punch in the small village of Dalmellington in Ayrshire. Since 2003, the club has produced 30 national champions, six British champions and a youth Commonwealth bronze medallist. The recognition that such clubs and individuals receive is undoubtedly deserved, and the contribution that all coaches, officials and volunteers make across the country is truly exceptional and must not go unnoticed. Today’s debate is testament to the hard work that goes into running sports clubs such as Doon valley boxing club.

Let us take a closer look at the work of Sam Mullen, who established the boxing club. He opened the community gym after an injury forced him to retire. There are many ways to give back to your community and one is to volunteer in sport. Without the generosity of volunteers, such clubs simply could not operate. It is volunteers such as Sam and his team who help to create the next generation of sporting stars. I am a volunteer netball coach, and I encourage everyone to get involved—it is extremely rewarding.

Crucial to the continuing success of boxing across Scotland is Boxing Scotland, which does great work throughout the country. It continues to make boxing accessible and to develop the sport so that all have the opportunity to reach their potential. It also works to create a strong boxing community.

My colleague Brian Whittle briefly entered that community when he visited Doon valley boxing club. I am not sure whether members—apart from Colin Smyth—were privy to the photographs of him visiting the club. Brian Whittle is, of course, a decorated athlete who competed with the world’s best, but when he went up against his opponent at the club pound for pound, his opponent had the upper hand, showing that Brian is just a lightweight.

On Sunday, I watched a programme called “Fern Britton Meets ...”, in which Fern met boxing legend and two-time world champion, Nigel Benn. As well as speaking about his glittering career, he shared his more troubled personal journey. Benn was a difficult teenager and a worry to his family. At 17, he was persuaded to join the British Army, where he became a first-class boxer. He turned professional in 1987. Nicknamed “The Dark Destroyer” for his formidable punching power and aggressive fighting style, he won many titles and is ranked by BoxRec as the fourth-best British super-middleweight boxer of all time. His success demonstrates that activity in sport can turn lives around positively.

Yesterday, I had a tweeting session with Josh Taylor, a professional boxer from Prestonpans, East Lothian. Josh was part of the Olympic boxing team in London and he won a gold medal at the Commonwealth games in Glasgow—he turned professional in 2015. When he first started boxing aged 15, there were no boxing facilities in East Lothian, so he travelled here to Edinburgh for them. He told me that through his boxing he learned discipline and respect, which kept him out of trouble. He said that

“boxing is great for that.”

One of the Doon valley club members is a pupil at Ayr Academy, a young lad with boxing talent called Donny McPike. He is coached at Doon by Sam Mullen, who, as has been said, has built an outstanding record of turning out champions over the years. Apparently, Donny eats, sleeps and breathes boxing, and wants to get right to the top of his game. That dedication to the sport has seen him win a domestic treble: the Scottish intermediate championships, the western district championships and, for the second year in a row, the Scottish title. Donny is the only Ayrshire boy to achieve that. Those accolades highlight not only Donny’s talent but the value to the area of the Doon valley boxing club. The boxing club facilitated the growth and development of Donny’s talent. That highlights the crucial role that such clubs play in the development of young sporting lives, providing an environment of encouragement and opportunity.

Again, I thank Brian Whittle for bringing this debate to the chamber, and I acknowledge the great work of Doon Valley boxing club and pay tribute to all those volunteers in all sports across Scotland who do so much for their respective clubs.

Photo of Aileen Campbell Aileen Campbell Scottish National Party

I, too, thank Brian Whittle for lodging his motion and I thank members for their contributions to the debate. We have heard of the fantastic record of the small Doon valley boxing club, which is certainly punching above its weight. I also thank the coaches and volunteers who help to keep the club running, particularly Sam Mullen, who sounds like a truly inspirational character.

I would certainly be keen to meet the people from the club or to visit the club and try my right hook, although perhaps I should not do that, as it might be a wee bit different from the bouts that we regularly experience in the chamber. However, if time permits and the opportunity arises, I would be keen to meet those from the club.

I do not think that it is uncomfortable for us as parliamentarians to hear that messages on, for example, healthy eating, personal discipline and physical activity are more keenly heard when they are delivered by sportsmen and sportswomen. I know that sport has that reach, and that we must harness that potential to transform lives. That is being done by projects such as those that we heard are happening in Dalmellington and in clubs that are familiar to members in their constituencies. In my constituency, Biggar rugby club, of which I am a member, has delivered phenomenal results for many people across rural Lanarkshire. The Government supports projects such as football fans in training, which engages people, builds on community assets and empowers people to take control of their lives.

We see improvements and real results when we harness sport to transform lives. We know the health challenges that Scotland faces, but sport helps to reverse some of the unfortunate trends around sedentary lifestyles that we see in Scotland. Sport and physical activity have been proven to improve both physical and mental health. Being active has many health, social and economic benefits, and reduces the risks from more than 25 chronic conditions. It is estimated that physical inactivity in Scotland results in around 2,500 premature deaths and costs our national health service around £94.1 million annually. The tragedy is that such things are often preventable.

On providing opportunities for children, creating a culture in which healthy behaviours are the norm must start in the early years so that children and young people can develop a lifelong habit of activity. Research has shown that it is vital that children are active before they reach school age. That can be done through active play, which improves not only co-ordination but social skills with peers, siblings, parents, grandparents and nursery workers. That was, in part, why we developed a play strategy, which I think flows seamlessly into the work that we do once children reach school age. Through investment from this Government, 98 per cent of schools now provide their pupils with two hours or two periods of physical education per week, compared with the less than 10 per cent that did so in 2004-05.

However, we must not be complacent. We will continue to support sportscotland, Education Scotland and Scottish local authorities to maintain and improve the quality of PE provision, and we will position that within the Government’s overarching aims around raising attainment.

Outside school hours, children can access the active schools programme. Since 2007, sportscotland has invested over £80 million in that programme, and it will invest up to £50 million in the period 2015 to 2019, across all 32 local authorities. As a result, during the school session 2015-16, school pupils across Scotland made 6.5 million visits to active schools sport and physical activity sessions. That record high represents a 7 per cent increase on the previous 12 months.

The figures show that, during the same academic year, the number of activity sessions that were offered increased by 5 per cent to 350,000, with a range of more than 100 different sports and activities being on offer. We have also seen an increase in the number of people delivering those sessions, 19,000 of whom are volunteers. The active schools programme also provides a helpful pathway into club sport to encourage children to continue with their sporting activities once they leave school. That is a great foundation that we must build on if we want to make inroads into inactivity levels across our country.

One of the lasting legacies of the 2014 Commonwealth games is the development of community sport hubs. Scotland can now boast of having 157 of those hubs, which bring together local clubs to work together in the way that best suits local circumstances. Many of the hubs are based in local schools. Sportscotland has announced a further investment of £6 million to create a total of 200 hubs by 2020. Colin Smyth might be interested to know that my letter of direction to sportscotland covers looking at ways in which we can enhance that provision in areas of deprivation.

It is important to remember that Scotland’s sedentary lifestyle is about more than just sport. It is about activity more generally, and that is why we support the paths for all partnership. Our dedication to walking in our national strategy has seen an increase of 5 per cent in that free-of-charge activity. We are also investing in active travel and, through the spirit of 2012 trust, we are investing in collecting data about what works in getting our inactive population active. Yesterday, I was impressed by the work that is happening at Edinburgh Leisure, which is truly targeting and engaging with the community in order to figure out what it needs to do differently to get its inactive population active across all ages.

Photo of Miles Briggs Miles Briggs Conservative

The minister has highlighted various groups. One group that I think we are all aware of is jogscotland, which is trying to do exactly what the minister said those other groups are doing. However, its funding has all been cut. Will the minister review that to see how that group can continue to provide the physical exercise that we all want to see, which it says it will have to scale back on?

Photo of Aileen Campbell Aileen Campbell Scottish National Party

We are always looking to see in what ways we can improve on situations. I certainly know that the work that jogscotland continues to do is recognised and appreciated, but we need to look at the whole picture, and that is why we are investing in things such as paths for all, to encourage people to take up that free-of-charge activity, and making sure that we celebrate the 5 per cent increase in walking across Scotland. That happens not by accident but through the investment, the dedication and the focus that we have had through our national walking strategy.

Others have mentioned sport’s ability to reach into our communities, transform lives, engage with people and help the Government more generally to tackle issues around inequality, health and wellbeing and employability. All those things have a reach that sport can help with, and they help us to transform lives and our communities. That is why it is important that we continue to focus on and understand that more general reach.

We continue to work with the Scottish governing bodies to see whether they can have more rigour and robustness in their figures so that we can truly tell that story much more powerfully across our country.

Sport has a phenomenal reach, and we need to harness that and use it to transform lives. I congratulate everyone who is involved in Doon valley boxing club for the work that they are doing to transform lives in their area. As others have done, I pay tribute to the volunteers who are providing opportunities and happy memories for children and young people right across our nation.

13:19 Meeting suspended.

14:30 On resuming—