Cash boost for gym cleaning up crime-hit ‘war zone’

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A GYM, set up in a ‘war zone’ in Bulwell to work with tearaway young people engulfed in crime, is going from strength to strength — thanks to a £192,000 boost from the National Lottery.

Richard McDonald launched Bulwell Community Gym with a friend in 2000 in an outbuilding at Club One on Coventry Road.

In 2008, it moved to Highbury Vale Community Centre in Brooklyn Road — a patch notorious for gang crime, knife attacks and anti-social behaviour.

However, far from becoming a target, Richard’s venture, which is known as the ‘shed gym’, has played a key role in cleaning up the area, where crime rates have dropped significantly.

The gym boasts more than 130 members, many of whom have dark pasts and say that without support from Richard they would probably have ended up in prison.

Now, after being on the verge of closure, the gym is looking to the future thanks to the cash injection from the Lottery.

The money will help change the lives of many more people and will become a starting point to apply for other grants.

The aim is to raise more than £500,000 to build a massive extension and buy the very latest equipment.

Richard, who is a self-confessed “former bad lad”, says the gym has helped members steer clear of drugs and has dissolved gang disputes caused by ‘postcode wars’.

“It just started as somewhere to train,” said Richard (40). “Then it progressed because a lot of young lads from the estates, who had nowhere else to go, used to come. They just happened to be troubled lads.

“Many of the kids couldn’t believe what we were offering them as they just hadn’t been used to having positive opportunities provided for them.”

When the gym moved to Highbury Vale, there were doubts whether the building was suitable because it had been repeatedly vandalised.

But Richard spoke with the teenagers hanging around and said that if they wanted the gym to succeed, they had to leave it alone. There have been no problems since.

The building also houses a music studio and offers courses in personal training and music.

Richard and his two colleagues act as mentors and use their own personal experiences to get through to the members.