Kingston residents have been fighting for three years to open a new community boxing gym in a derelict building in Kingston Road Recreational Grounds. However, the project is at risk of being scrapped due to lack of funding.
Ben Young, former owner of the Two Kings Boxing Club, initially wanted to open the gym to support the local community, especially young people struggling with mental health issues. Young also provided young children from poorer communities with boxing classes for £5 at the Two Kings Boxing Club, which has since closed due to Covid-19.
Young said: “I had a gym just over the road. I had it for about ten years. We got countless champions out of it, national champions. I’ve done a lot of work with (people) with mental health through boxing. I still do it today, but obviously I haven’t got a gym.
“I ran it all off my own back. I never made a penny out of it because the rent was so high, but I kept it open for the (children). I did that every day.”
Young, alongside members of the Friends of Kingston Road Recreation Ground (Friends of KRRG) Barbara Gorrie and Frances Marsh, has been working with the council to begin development on the new gym. But the project is now estimated to cost between £100 000 and 138 000 to complete.
Young said: “I found this old building in the park and enquired about it to the council […] Barbara and Frances found out about me enquiring about it.
“The council said they wanted planning permission. I’ve got a structural engineer in and they’ve come up with a plan, but that’s going to cost me over 135 grand.”
The building, which has been abandoned since 2012, needs significant repairs as some parts of the building have been open to the elements. The roof is currently too heavy, and many of the ceiling joints are not properly tied in. The building has also been subject to vandalism and vermin.
Norbiton Councillor Olly Wehring supports the project, but has said the price of the refurbishment is a necessary cost in order for the gym to open. He said: “There is an element of liability if something goes wrong. For example, the worst case scenario (the building) collapses and someone is injured. Building regs need to be adhered to.”
Young and the Friends of KRRG have been attempting to get financial support to restore and refurbish the building. The council has been supportive of the project, but their financial backing is still required.
So far, Young has spent around £12 000 on the project, as well as over £1600 of crowdfunded money which has gone towards the restoration of the building. However, he fears that he will not be able to get the rest of the funding from the council to complete it.
He said: “I’ve already put twelve grand of my own money in, plus the money that my friends and family have put in from the Go Fund Me page, so that’s gone […] Financially this has crushed me.”
Despite the estimated cost, Cllr Wehring is still optimistic about the project. He said: “Appetite of the councillors is 100 per cent there […] It’s something I definitely want to see happen.”
Wehring continued: “We thought it was an ideal location. For young children, it’s something to fill the hours after school and before they go to bed […] We’re in December now, and [I’m hoping] to get it to the committee in January.”
Barbara Gorrie, member of the Friends of KRRG, said: “[The Council] are not treating this as a wanted project for the community, they don’t see it […] They should make this happen.”
When asked if she believes the project still has a chance to be completed, Gorrie answered: “Yes I do. The structural engineer wants it to happen. We just have to get the money.”
Young and Gorrie met with Cllr Wehring on December 16. Following the meeting, Young claims to be more optimistic towards the project.
He said: “It’s been a lot more positive than it’s ever been. The council recons they can help us get the money. But we’ll now have to wait and see. It’s a waiting game now.
“I’m hesitant of course, I still don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The Friends of KRRG are currently in the process of getting Young set up as a CIC (Community Interest Company), and are working on an agreement for a lease of the building. However, the project is now dependent on the council’s financial support if it is to continue.