“I just wanted to open it up for everyone, so young kids could come and have a go if they wanted,” says Chris Enderwick at his gym just off Marton Road in Middlesbrough.
Around 15 children of all ages – many of whom have never taken part in martial arts before - enthusiastically don kickboxing gear and learn simple kicks and strikes, smiling and making new friends inside the gym.
The rhythmic thud of fists and feet on pads only temporarily pauses, as Chris and his coaches Kieron and Harry stop for photos and a chat with Middlesbrough News.
The 37-year-old opened Enderwick’s last year, a kickboxing gym near the town centre that gives people of all ages and backgrounds a chance to learn the sport, get active and build their confidence.
It’s just one of the venues hosting youngsters as part of Bring It On Boro, the new name for the Holiday Activities Fund (HAF), a programme to help give children structured activities and a healthy lunch during the long six-weeks holidays.
Run by Middlesbrough Council with funding from the Department of Education, the programme is designed to help families with children who receive free school meals through the holidays.
“It’s been brilliant so far. The kids are really enthusiastic and they love it. They go away sweating, happy and laughing,” said Chris.
“They’re making friends and for those who’ve never tried kickboxing, learning a completely new skill.
“Doing the basics teaches children co-ordination, confidence and helps them build new friendships and relationships.
“For those that stick with it, kickboxing builds resilience and gives some young people a safe and positive place to channel their aggression.
“It’s also a fantastic way for people to improve their mental health.”
Bring It On Boro is run by Middlesbrough Council with funding from the Department of Education.
The national scheme was designed to help families with children who receive free school meals through the holidays, but any family in Middlesbrough who want their children to take part can also book onto classes.to take part are asked to email email@example.com or call 01642 728888.
Kickboxing is just one activity in a varied programme of events running all summer – with athletics, badminton, basketball and other sports available alongside trips out to theme parks, arts and crafts and swimming.
Eligible families in both Middlesbrough and Redcar can still book onto the free activities across the school summer holidays – with thousands of free places for children aged five to 16 to sign up for.
To take part, visit the HAF booking website.
If your family does not receive benefit-related free school meals, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01642 728888.
Back at the gym, the kids are hitting the pads again to work up an appetite for lunch, a healthy curry and rice, which is on its way.
Chris has been coaching kickboxing for a decade, previously running classes from school halls and gyms and during the Covid pandemic, even outdoors at Albert Park.
But at his new base – impressively kitted out with two rings and a host of pads, bags and gym equipment – has allowed him to help his community.
Marie Cunningham, who helps run the Fighting Chance community organisation from the gym, explains.
“Especially during Covid, Chris just wanted to support as many people as he could, but he knew a lot might not be able to afford to come along or even know how to get involved,” she explains.
“I have a background in running the Inward Bound community organisation, which offers wellbeing and mindfulness services across Middlesbrough, so we looked into doing something similar for Chris’ kickboxing.
“It’s already been a massive success, introducing new people to kickboxing and really boosting their confidence and social skills.”
With funding from Middlesbrough Council’s Community Grant Fund, the National Lottery Community Fund, the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Cleveland’s CURV fund and Tees Valley Community Fund, Fighting Chance was born.
It offers classes and one-to-one sessions to transform the lives of children and young adults who are struggling with their mental health or anxiety, through the art of kickboxing.
Also helped by donations from businesses and individuals, all of the classes are completely free.