Boxing coach told he’s dying of cancer refuses to throw the towel in on club
Desperate search for a new home, as parents reveal how gym has helped their kids in the virus crisis
09 October, 2020 — By Helen Chapman
Steve Miller with parents including Colleen Donaghey and Anna Towner
THE chairman of a boxing club who has been told he has incurable cancer says he is determined to save the gym from closure.
Steve Miller, 60, from Angel Boxing Club, was told in January he had just three years to live after a prostate cancer diagnosis spread to his bones.
He said: “They’ve told me I’m dying. It’s been really hard but I’ve got a lot of people wrapped around me. I’ve just got to keep going.”
Mr Miller, who underwent a hip operation earlier this year, goes to the club three times a week to coach children and teenagers how to box and defend themselves.
Mr Miller coaches Leah Donaghey-Mendonca, aged 8
The club’s motto is “be a jabber not a stabber”.
The gym opened for the first time after the coronavirus lockdown three weeks ago and charges just £3 for a youth training session.
But its building in Owen’s Row is owned by City and Islington College, which has said it must leave in 2022 when the lease expires.
Mr Miller, who started boxing at the club when he was 19 years old, said: “I won’t let the gym shut, no matter what happens.
“I am sure we have a 99-year lease. Now we are told we need to be out in 2022. They say they can help us find a new building. But where else could we go?”
The club has been based at the site off St John Street for 50 years.
Mr Miller, who previously boxed for England, said: “I started boxing at 19. It’s kept me out of trouble.”
Colleen Donaghey, mother of boxing club member Leah (above), said: “When Covid happened my kids went off the rails but now they’re back at the club they’ve got their routine back.
Angel Boxing Club’s Aidan Marley, 9
“Coming here helps release stress and builds their confidence.”
And Anna Towner, who has two children, age 14 and age 8, at the club, said: “As a parent I’d be lost without this place. My son is 14 and he is at that impressionable age.
“But coming here puts kids in the right frame of mind. They learn not to be a follower. It’s so good here. They’re like a little family.”
A spokesperson for Capital City College Group, which runs City and Islington College, said: “It’s a very sad situation for the Angel Boxing Club and we sympathise with their predicament. However, the club’s lease, dated 2nd December 2002, is not for 99 years, but is for 20 years and it expires in December 2022.
“We emailed members of the club’s staff a copy of this lease back in May 2019 and explained to them that we would not be renewing it.”
“The building occupies a part of our Angel site, which is also home to our large 6th Form College teaching A-levels, as well as a specialist centre where we run a range of courses, including in the sciences, animal management and ophthalmology.
“The site is currently full to capacity and we would very much like to be able to use the building to provide space for more people to study with us.”
The group said its offer to help the club find new premises still stands.
Knockout blow? Fears second lockdown could close boxing gym
Lenny Hagland, chairman of Islington Boxing Club
AN amateur boxing gym fears a second lockdown could force them to close due to a funding squeeze, writes Helen Chapman.
Under the government’s latest coronavirus regulations larger groups can still take part in outdoor sports, but indoor sports have been restricted to the “rule of six”.
Lenny Hagland, chairman of Islington Boxing Club, says amateur boxing gyms like his are suffering.
He said: “We are losing money each week because there are not enough people coming through the doors, but bills still need to be paid.
“We are losing money and it is getting very worrying. The threat of another lockdown over us is worrying.
“Our glass is half-full at the moment but it could go one way or another. If we stay as we are we will survive. If we go into another lockdown it would kill us.”
Mr Hagland took over the chairmanship of the club from his father Ron who died in 2018.
It moved to its current home in Hazellville Road in 1981 after a lengthy battle to gain permission from the council to change the building’s use from an office to a sports club. Amongst many other achievements, the club now boasts one of the largest contingents of female boxers in the country.
Over its 40-year history thousands of youngsters have passed through the doors of the red cabin.
Due to the coronavirus crisis, the club has cancelled two fundraising events this year which usually bring in about £30,000.
Mr Hagland said the club have been unsuccessful with their applications for charity grants and approached the council for help in May. He added: “We are getting children in to get fit and getting them out of their house and off their computers. That is what their parents want. Kids who would usually be out on the streets getting into trouble come to us. We help lots of people get on the right path.”
Islington’s community development chief, Councillor Una O’Halloran, said: “Islington’s fantastic voluntary community sector organisations play a huge role in enriching life in the borough, and the council stands with them at this difficult time.
“We have worked tirelessly to support local community organisations, and will continue to provide support to those in need.”