The Todmorden Boxing Academy Tackling Women’s Mental and Physical Health
Todmorden’s Northern Powerhouse Boxing Academy is the UK’s first women-led boxing club
The boxing club was set up as a community interest company in March 2018 with the aim of offering girls and women a welcoming environment to train in – whether for amateur competition or simply to improve their fitness and wellbeing. The gym is an inclusive, safe space for anyone (boys and men are welcome, and are encouraged to attend the mixed and boys’ sessions) and there are dedicated sessions designed to cater for individual needs.
Olympic-style coaching, boxercise and strength and conditioning classes are just a few of those sessions. Boxercise is based on the training concepts boxers typically use to keep fit – think shadow-boxing, skipping, hitting pads, press-ups, shuttle-runs and sit-ups. Or you could opt for PowerBox which takes you through a full-body workout using a variety of core, cardio and strength exercises. It’s designed to make boxers fitter but it’s suitable for everyone.
Josie McNamara, the club’s general manager, has always worked in sport but had a winter sports background before she found her love for boxing. Growing up in the north of Scotland, she had a fondness for skiing and became a ski racer before working in winter sports marketing. Josie joined the club in 2018 simply to get fit and keep her exercise up, but began helping the small team with some of their marketing. Before she knew it, she was invited to be a part of the all-women board of directors.
‘Anyone can come along no matter what your fitness levels are. I think that’s the ethos that has grown with the club,’ Josie says. ‘We’re a caring environment and people say that it’s like being a part of a family. We’re always looking out for each other. If someone slips off the radar for a couple of weeks, we always try and check in to see how they’re doing.’
The club is all about supporting the community, and that’s clear in the sessions they provide. They have tailored training for over 50s, under 11s or competing boxers – and through their girls-only exclusive sessions, Josie hopes she can encourage more young women to stay active. ‘If you’re into dancing and gymnastics you’re lucky because it’s quite easy to access those sports, but if you’re not, there aren’t that many sports sessions that are exclusive to teenage girls,’ Josie explains. ‘As soon as a girl hits puberty the chances of them dropping out of taking part in sport is massive. I see it myself because I coach that age group. If they lack the confidence, then suddenly they become shy and begin to question their place within the room. Our club allows girls to be girls, and means they don’t have to worry about who’s looking at them – they can just enjoy themselves.’
A lot of the work the club pride themselves on is supported locally by funding they receive. ‘Recently we ran sessions for a local refugee charity in Halifax called St. Augustine’s Centre, and we provided a boxercise session for the women who use their services. At the moment we also have a trans and non-binary session which is fully-funded as part of our local community, for people who generally find it really difficult to access normal gyms. There’s a lot of questions around what changing room to use and if people are going to look at them differently. This exclusive evening gives them a chance to work out with like-minded people. We’re not just a regular gym, we’re trying to do a lot more for our local people.’
But why is this so important in Todmorden? ‘Around here, there isn’t much provision for exercise indoors,’ Josie says. ‘It’s not like we’re in Leeds or a big city where there are hundreds of gyms to choose from. This is all about being able to offer something indoors for the local community.’
Boxing may often be perceived as a man’s sport, but Northern Powerhouse Boxing Academy are hoping to change that by encouraging women to give it a go, not least because that’s just as important for mental health as well as their physical health. ‘It’s a very cathartic experience to come in and punch the bags or pads,’ Josie says, speaking from experience. ‘A couple of years ago we made some short videos about some of our club members and the benefits they’d experienced from boxing, and it’s things that you would never even think about. One woman in her 60s had just retired and suddenly she was thinking about what would get her out of bed in the morning and who her friends were now she didn’t see her work colleagues (and struggling a lot with that change in who she was) – and it was boxing that kept her going.’
That’s why the team behind the club are keen to continue to provide their women- and girl-only sessions. ‘Our own goals are really to develop our female boxers,’ Josie continues. ‘We’ve got a couple of really good sportswomen coming through who will be able to compete in the future and we’re really trying to push them.’ The carding process means those who would like to become a competitive amateur boxer will get an England Boxing Card which allows them to spar within the club and at other sparring events organised by the club. ‘But there are people who come to the club who never want to step into the ring and that’s completely fine too,’ Josie continues. ‘Most people just want to come along and feel the benefits without having to put their mouthguard in and dodge punches.’
Find out more and join the club at northernpowerhouseboxing.org.uk.
What keeps you motivated?
‘Improving my boxing and working on my technique to become a better boxer.’
The most inspirational boxer, in your opinion?
‘I recently heard a chat involving Natasha Jonas from Liverpool and her story was really inspiring. She’s a professional boxer who challenged for the WBC and IBO female super-featherweight titles in 2020.’
The best song to listen to while training?
‘The girls quite like boxing to We Will Rock You by Queen. Punching in time to that one is fun.’
Your favourite thing about Yorkshire?
‘The strange sense of humour of the Yorkshire people.’
Your top tips for women looking to get into boxing.
‘Just make contact with your local boxing club; they should welcome and support you. You shouldn’t even need any kit. You should be able to turn up in your sports gear and they’ll show you the ropes.’