Our partners have been very generous, but we can’t expect them to continue to make a loss, so we’re about to start a fundraising push. We’re hoping to get as many gyms off the ground as possible. At the moment the first one is making an impact on a local level, but we want to make a real change.”
This is what Steel Warriors founder Ben Wintour said one year ago in an interview with HCM, so it’s incredibly cheering to see that his vision has become a reality and that one gym is about to become many.
Former PR executives, Wintour and Pia Fontes, teamed up to launch Steel Warriors in response to reading the frequent reports of stabbings in London. Everything about the business was outside their experience, but they successfully won the support of steel fabricators and gym builders – who even agreed to work on a pro bono basis – as well as the Metropolitan Police, who committed to hand over the two thousand knives they confiscate on the streets each month, to be melted down to create the gyms.
“We looked at the reasons why teenagers were carrying knives and found that one was for protection and the other was to flex their muscle,” says Wintour. “So we looked at alternative ways to meet these needs. Calisthenics is becoming quite a thing in prisons and seemed a good place to start.”
Now the Co-op has come on board, with a funding injection which will pay for up to 20 more free community gyms across the UK, in areas impacted by knife crime.
Two new gyms will be built this year, which will feature gym instructors providing training sessions for different abilities to share skills.
Making a difference
Co-op’s head of community propositions and planning, Sarah MacKenzie, says the initiative will raise awareness of the physical and emotional impact of knife crime, violence and abuse in communities. “This partnership is about much more than providing just money, it’s about co-operation to make a bigger difference,” she says.
“Across the country, Co-op has connections and colleagues in local communities which we will bring to bear to activate the gyms. Local training instructors and sports groups will be invited to use the gyms for free and Co-op will connect local youth groups working to access the facilities.”
This is one of a number of initiatives organised or supported by Co-op to activate communities and tackle knife crime, including no longer selling single knives at its stores. “Safety and security is a key priority for Co-op. We know violence and crime is about much more than statistics and it’s not about the cost to business, it’s about the human cost, its impact on people’s lives and the communities in which they live and work,” says MacKenzie. “As a community-based organisation, we see the impact on social issues in our stores and we’re committed to working together to do all we can to protect colleagues and make our communities safer.”
Wintour is delighted about the partnership: “We’re really glad to be working with the Co-op and our supporters to get more gyms built and to grow our vision into one that offers pro-active support to communities nationwide.” Fontes adds that collaboration is the key to tackling this problem. “There’s no one person or organisation that can solve this issue alone. We believe the key to doing that and to finding ways to reduce knife crime is co-operation.”
The first Steel Warriors opened next to a youth centre in Tower Hamlets last year and has been embraced by the community, with everyone from children to older Bengali women in their hijabs feeling comfortable using it and the more accomplished filming their moves and vlogging.
Going forward, the new gyms will continue to be built by the original engineers, Heyne Tillet Steel, with a variety of designs to accommodate both beginners and experts, with some unique and exciting new bar set-ups.