‘You feel a weight lifted’: The Sheffield boxing gym with mental health at its heart

Written by Adam Stanworth

Image Credit: @hashtagmentalmate

‘The Mental Health Emergency’ was how the charity Mind titled its report into how the Pandemic had affected the nation’s mental health, in the months following the first lockdown.

The charity included the alarming statistic that two-thirds of those struggling with mental-health problems, prior to March 2020, had seen their condition worsen as a result of the initial lockdown and as we emerge from a third, many are anxious at the prospect of restrictions being eased.

It is, therefore, more crucial than ever to ensure that there are provisions in place to help support people with their mental health as normality returns and the Mental Mate Boxing club is playing an important role in providing just that

Based at the Knox Gym in the Wicker area of Sheffield, Mental Mate is a boxing club run by Daniel Barton that promotes more than just physical health.

Since January 2020, Daniel has been intent on helping people across the city aid their mental wellbeing through boxing-based exercise classes on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings but his initial inspiration behind launching the club stemmed from his own battle with mental health.

“I had my own mental health issues and I used boxing as a bit of a tool to keep it at bay.

“It was then just a thought, it helps me so would it help anyone else too?”

For Daniel, boxing was an important outlet and it was simply the physical toll of the sport that provided the biggest help.

“It’s just that physical release, you feel a weight lifted from just punching the bag and you’re physically and mentally tiring yourself out from doing the exercise.

“But its kind of just the relief you feel and the satisfaction of punching something for twelve rounds or so.”

However, COVID put paid to the prospect of hosting classes in person and for someone who thrives on being active, Daniel found the insular nature of lockdown difficult.

“For me, it was not being able to go out and get to the gym, that’s what got to me.”

“I need to get out and do something because otherwise your mental health drains away, you just feel worse and worse the longer your stuck in the house not being active.”

In order to boost the mental state of both himself and those who attended the classes, Daniel took up running and ran one-to-one sessions which proved to be a real help.

But with cases falling and restrictions easing, he is now able to get back to hosting group sessions at the Knox.

In line with the club’s ethos of promoting physical and mental health in tandem, Mental Mate offers a range of sessions that help with both aspects of wellbeing.

Daniel takes care of the physical aspects and puts attendees through their paces with bag sessions and pad work, as well as core exercises that include squats to aid overall fitness.

When it comes to aiding mental health, on Sunday mornings a member of the Sheffield Mind team comes down to the gym to run sessions alongside the physical training, that provide a platform for attendees to talk through how their weeks have been any struggles they may have.

“There’s a sense of family down there.

“There’s a non-judgment aspect and people feel more comfortable about opening up because they know that everyone else is sharing similar issues.”

Daniel has recently had a number of people volunteer to help with mental health counselling and he is always happy to take on anyone who is willing to simply “listen and have a conversation with somebody”.

Such has been the popularity of the classes that there is now a waiting list to join the club which has meant that Daniel has expansion on his mind and he is excitedly considering putting on more sessions.

Fundamental to the success of Mental Mate is the fact that there is evidence of real progress, both tangible and intangible, among those who enjoy the haven of the club every week.

“Its obviously really rewarding to, mainly, see them mentally improve but also physically because 99 per cent of them haven’t touched a pair of boxing gloves in their life.

“So seeing them progress in that regard is just as rewarding.”

Mental Mate’s mission to boost mental and physical wellbeing is a goal that is being achieved continuously thanks to Daniel’s enthusiasm and evident desire to help others.

“People sometimes just need a chat, and it can be as simple as that.

“Other times people need far more than that, but we’ve found people just having a chat and a punch tends to make a big difference to them.”

Written by Adam Stanworth

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