A boxing coach who has dedicated his life to helping disadvantaged youths has said his aim is to “create champions outside the ring as much as inside”.
Paul Johnston, 51, of Monkstown Boxing Club in Newtownabbey, Co Antrim, is being made an MBE for his work as a coach and mentor to hundreds of young people over the years.
He founded the cross-community BoxClever programme in 2012, a voluntary group delivering homework and breakfast clubs, coaching sessions and sport-related work placements for youths from deprived backgrounds in his area.
“We have a team of youth workers and it’s very much based around the relationship between the young person and their coach,” he told the PA news agency.
“I’m really just trying to support the young people at different stages of their lives… the big decisions about their education or about other things.
“Really, school maybe just didn’t provide that level of support that we could.
“I’ve been coaching for over 30 years now at Monkstown Boxing Club. I’ve seen that vision of the boxing club being much more than just a boxing club.
“We’re trying to create champions outside the ring as much as inside.”
BoxClever got off the ground with the help of the National Lottery Community Fund, which has delivered more than £1 million to date.
Mr Johnston said he is “eternally grateful” for the fund’s support, which has helped change the lives of young people who were leaving school with few or no qualifications.
“There’s young people who were on a pathway of leaving school with no qualifications and now they’re university graduates,” he said.
“They’re actually working as educational psychologists.
“One of our young boxers came from a single-parent family, very little money about, and he went on and did his degree in Queens, did his master’s in Trinity.
“Now he is a clinical psychologist for the Northern Trust. Stories like that are inspirational.
“To see those young people grow as boxers, but also grow up into amazing adults, is just brilliant.”
Mr Johnston described being made an MBE as a “huge honour” which will make his mother “so proud”.
“Hopefully, Covid permitting, she’ll be able to get over to the Palace for the ceremony,” he added.
“It’s a huge honour, it really is. There’s so many people behind me, our team at the boxing cub and the young people that make our jobs so rewarding.
“It’s obviously recognition for, not just me leading the project, but for so many others as well.
“It’s fantastic. I’m really, I would say, immensely proud of the organisation and how it’s really been providing so much support across the whole community, not just for young people.”