Reyband, a 17-year-old Iranian refugee of Kurdish descent, was referred to Empire Fighting Chance through his social worker.
‘Empire is like a second home to me now,’ says Rey, who for the last year has been working closely with coach Matt Webster on the BoxChampions programme. Before he started at the gym, Rey was feeling lonely, isolated, and angry. ‘It made me feel so angry. I missed my family, my mum, my dad. I was lying on my bed all day and all night, feeling angry,’ he says.
‘With the refugees, there is a lot of loss. There is a lot of sorrow and bereavement which people don’t really understand’, says Matt. ‘These young lads that I have met were children when they left home; they were twelve years old when they had to go. Sometimes, they’re sixteen by the time they get here. They’ve grown up through their teenage years being trafficked and hiding in boats and all kinds. They have witnessed loss and, in some cases, seen their families killed.’
Like many refugees, Rey continues to endure things nobody should experience. He has lived in the UK for almost four years but is unsure how long he was being trafficked for. ‘It was so difficult. I can’t remember. I was in the back of the lorries and on a boat as well – that was so scary. I still remember that because it was so scary. The waves were like – ’, he pauses for breath but can’t explain any further.
Although it takes him an hour and a half to get to the gym from his foster home in Portishead, Rey rarely misses a day. Since starting at Empire, he feels like he has found a community and a sense of purpose again. ‘Before boxing I was at zero,’ he says. ‘Now, I’m at seventy-five and I feel it is getting higher. Matt is like my brother – if I was in trouble or something I could ask him, and he would help me. Boxing is my dream. It’s my life – boxing is everything for me now and I can’t live without it.’
Empire Co-founder Martin is pleased but not surprised that Rey has found Empire Fighting Chance such a welcoming space. ‘We don’t treat them like refugees – we treat them like individuals. We have a community here where they’re allowed to come. People respect them and treat them with respect. People look out for them and are happy to help. Those things are massive if you’re struggling and feel lost,’ he says. ‘They can come to an environment where they feel safe, where they are accepted, where there’s a broad group of people that look and sound similar and may have common experiences. They can come to an environment where they are not judged. We’re here to support them and do what they need or what they want.’
As Rey begins to hit the pads and the tension visibly begins to fade from his body, he looks to the gym’s small windows and says, ‘I love it here.’
In 2022, Empire Fighting Chance Supported over 5,000 young people like Reyband.
If you know of a young person who may benefit from Empire Fighting Chance’s programme of one-to-one support, email firstname.lastname@example.org.