Belfast boxer throws weight behind Mental Health Awareness Week campaign

The Mental Health Foundation’s theme for the week is ‘Movement: Moving more for our mental health’.

Ward, a former WBO European cruiserweight champion, runs his own mental health enterprise Fight2Thrive, which runs movement-based workshops for young people to help build resilience and instill discipline.

“From a young age, I had my fair share of difficult times. I started boxing when I was 11,” Ward said.

“And very quickly it became my counsellor, my therapist, my best mate. It became my regulation and gave me a sense of belonging.

“I started seeing what was going on with our young people. I was seeing a lot of anxiety and it made me sad. I’m a big man but this hurt my heart a bit.

“Some young people have anxiety, some have trauma, some have so much going on, and I’m just their safe space.

“The anxiety that maybe they feel walking in the classroom, is the same as I feel walking out in front of 10,000 people to fight, it’s no less.”

Ward recognises that boxing isn’t for everyone, so uses various different forms of movement when working with young people, such as bike riding and basketball.

“I have had some young people who just don’t want to box at all,” he said.

“I get a tennis ball and they sit on one beanbag, I sit on the other and we just throw the tennis ball between us. And it’s that connection that takes your mind off everything and then the conversation just flows.”

Steven Ward runs Fight2Thrive, a movement-based initiative that helps young people

The Belfast man works out of Monkstown Boxing and in schools and youth clubs. Fight2Thrive, which is supported by former two-weight world champion Carl Frampton, who is also a director of the organisation, has already helped scores of young people since it was launched last year.

Carl Frampton said: “Fight2Thrive offers young people the support and guidance they need to overcome life’s challenges and discover their potential, just as boxing transformed my own life. I’ve experienced firsthand how this sport can change lives, instill discipline, resilience and self-belief.”

Steven Ward and Carl Frampton

Fight2Thrive has been awarded funding of £8,000 from UnLtD, a charity which supports social entrepreneurs helping communities.

“We now have gloves and equipment, and can get a laptop and transport. Up until the funding, I’ve been begging and borrowing from here and there. Without doubt, the support and funding from UnLtd has made all the difference.”

Mark Norbury, chief executive of UnLtd, added: “Social entrepreneurs, like Steven, are tackling inequalities and mental health challenges with inspired wellbeing solutions and activities. They are making a powerful difference in communities — at a time when so many of us have been struggling.”

Belfast Telegraph Life