18th July 2023
"I have watched people come in with their head down; no confidence, no self-esteem, no self-worth and within a matter of weeks are up warming up the group and encouraging others on the programme. With the right supports, anything is possible."
Very proud ‘Boxing Clever’ co-ordinator Mark Wright is reflecting on the completion of a pilot programme in Cork that uses an integrated health, fitness and educational programme for people who are currently in addiction and looking to reduce their usage - with the goal to become drug and alcohol free. The programme is also for people who are in recovery.
Providing safety, structure and routine
Boxing Clever's mission is to provide a safe place for people to get fit and further their education, as well as providing structure, routine and a social aspect for marginalised and stigmatised people. It was first implemented and researched at the Ballymun Youth Action Project, Dublin by Sarah Morton, Laura O’Reilly and Karl O’Brien in 2015.
"I brought Boxing Clever to Cork because I have been implementing different educational and fitness programmes within the Cork community and I was interested in combining the two together. When the programme was brought to Cork it received support from different organisations such as the HSE Cork Kerry Community Healthcare, the Educational Training Board (ETB), Mardyke Sports Arena and West Cork Development,” said Mark.
"The first roll out of the programme began in September 2022. The programme started with 24 people and we will graduate with 11. The educational element of the programme takes place in the Knocknaheeney ETB building and the physical element of the programme is delivered in the Mardyke Sports Arena," he added.
Boxing Clever is one of the initiatives funded and supported by the Recovery Academy, which was initiated by Cork Kerry Community Healthcare’s Social Inclusion team in 2019. The overall aim of the Recovery Academy is to raise awareness of and promote recovery; conduct research, provide support for people in recovery and their families and advocate on policy.
The Recovery Academy is committed to giving those in recovery a voice, empowering them to serve as role models in their communities, act as visions of hope and champion the concept of sustained recovery.
Huge benefit to addiction recovery
Shane Buckley, aged 36, is originally from Kildare but has been living in Cork since May 2022: "I first heard about Boxing Clever through the manager of the secondary addiction treatment centre (Teach Mhuire), where I was a resident at the time. After a brief conversation with the manager, we decided that the programme would be a good move in terms of my personal growth and my addiction recovery.
"The programme itself was a perfect fit for me as the two aspects (fitness and education) gave me a great balance in terms of my physical and my mental health and it gave me a purpose that I previously struggled to find. Meeting new people in various stages of recovery/reduce use challenged me daily and my interpersonal skills improved dramatically," said Shane.
The course entailed four days a week (two-three hours each day) learning boxing skills with a qualified coach. It also involved two days in a classroom setting, studying Community Addiction Studies (QQI Level 5) and Health Related Fitness (QQI Level4).
“I liked everything about Boxing Clever. Of course it was challenging, on numerous levels, but as a whole the programme helped me immensely. Physically, I am in better shape than I have ever been, which has had positive effects on my health and wellbeing, as well as my confidence. My mental health has improved dramatically and it's no coincidence that this coincided with my time on this programme.
"The benefit to my addiction recovery has been immense, meeting new people and developing friendships has been a major help and I have made new contacts in various services because of my participation in this programme."
"I would recommend this programme to anybody who is in active recovery, or who is looking to reduce their use, as the structure is hugely beneficial no matter where you are at. It will get you to the next stage - whatever that might be - if you are willing to commit and put in the work. I would not be as far along in my journey if I had not started and completed the programme, and I would like to thank all the staff, volunteers and participants for everything they have done for me," said Shane.
HSE Cork Kerry Community Healthcare's Social Inclusion Manager Joe Kirby, reflected how “Boxing Clever is one of many recovery-based programmes delivered through Recovery Academy Cork. The programme supports people from a broad range of referral sources, including homeless addiction and mental health services.
“We are committed to contributing to the evidence base of recovery programmes and have contracted Dr Rebekah Brennan of UCC to provide an evaluation. The evaluation will inform how we can improve our delivery of Boxing Clever into the future,” he said.
Good for the community
Mark says the project is good for both participants and the community: "This programme is extremely beneficial to the participants who are involved. It is my pleasure to guide and support each and every one of them on their journey but it is amazing to watch different participants begin their journey and to see them flourish within the 20/30 weeks. “
"The programme provides structure, routine and gives them a sense of purpose - not only within themselves - but their community. It is a pleasure to watch people come onto the programme and develop themselves," he said.
Upon completion of the programme the participants will receive a QQI Four in Health-Related Fitness and a QQI Five in Community Addiction Studies. If anyone expresses an interest in furthering their education before the programme is finished, then they are put on to the Educational Development Partnership Programme.
Applications are now open for September's programme and further details are available from Mark Wright, Coolmain Recovery Academy Co-ordinator on
086 068 3404.