Farewell to Barry O’Dowd -- community hero, Olympic torch-bearer and friend of Froch

PACKING A PUNCH FOR HIS COMMUNITY -- boxing coach Barry O'Dowd
PACKING A PUNCH FOR HIS COMMUNITY -- boxing coach Barry O'Dowd

Bulwell sport said a fond farewell to one of its most popular and iconic characters and achievers this week.

Barry O’Dowd, who has died at the age of 66 after an eight-month battle with cancer, was a legendary boxing coach and community worker.

His legion of friends and supporters included Carl Froch, who defends his world super-middleweight boxing titles at Wembley Stadium this weekend.

And a measure of the impact Barry made was that he was chosen to carry the Olympic torch in the nationwide relay that preceded the London 2012 Games.

He was nominated for his services to boxing and to the local community which even helped to cut crime rates in what is classed as a deprived area.

At his funeral, held at a packed St Mary’s Church in Bulwell on Tuesday, tributes included one from fellow boxing enthusiast Mark Ritchie, who said:

“Barry was like a father figure to the people of Bulwell Hall Estate. He always encouraged people to respect one another.”

Ritchie is the secretary of Bulwell Hall Boxing and Fitness Club, which is based at the estate’s Totley Close Community Centre that Barry helped to save.

In a vibrant campaign which started in 2008, he appealed to businesses for resources to revitalise the building and rescue it from demolition.

With help from Nottingham City Council, local councillors and Bulwell Hall Estate’s tenants and residents association, Barry was successful.

And after setting up the club and becoming its chief coach, it was officially opened by Nottingham’s world boxing champion Froch in 2010.

“This is just the sort of gym I started in,” said Froch at the time. “It is brilliant, and certainly better than kids hanging round on the streets, possibly getting into mischief.”

The club has since gone from strength to strength, and work is now being carried out to add a small football pitch and running track next to the building.

Sheila and Graham Loades, of the tenants and residents association, cannot thank Barry enough for what he did. “He will never be forgotten,” they said this week. “He will stay in our hearts forever.”

Other residents on the estate described Barry as “one in a million” and “a lovely, inspirational man”.

Now a fresh campaign has been launched -- to raise £1,000 build a statue of Barry on Totley Close as a permanent memorial.

Son Shaun, who is to take over the running of the club, hopes to enlist the help of family, friends and the boxing community to erect the statue.

“The community loved him, and people really looked up to him,” said Shaun. “He was the life and soul of the estate, and deserves more than just a plaque.”

Born and raised in The Meadows, Nottingham, Barry started boxing at the age of 14 before joining the Army two years later.

He continued to box even when posted to Borneo, and was crowned a junior welterweight champion in the Army at 17.

After leaving the Army, he worked at Gedling Colliery for ten years and then became a scaffolder until his retirement at the age of 60.

But he was always involved in boxing and helped to set up two clubs based at pubs in Bulwell, the Scots Grey, which has now re-located to Strelley, and The Swinger.

It was his work to switch The Swinger club to the saved venue at Bulwell Hall that helped him gain the nomination to carry the Olympic flame on a 600-metre leg through the streets of Nottingham in 2012.

“When I found out about the nomination, I was so shocked,” said Barry at the time. “It was a real honour and I savoured every second.

“My family and friends were there to support me. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Later that same year, Barry won Nottingham City Council’s sports coach of the year award.

Barry, who lived on Bulwell Hall Estate at Fradley Close, continued to run the boxing club, which doubles up as a community fitness centre, right up to his illness.

It caters for men, women and children, and currently has 30 registered boxers.

“Barry was their inspiration,” said Ritchie. “It was his life’s passion. He gave his all for every one of the members.

“Everyone looked up to him. All the girls had a soft spot for him, and the kids used to call him grandad. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for this club.”

Hundreds of boxers have trained at the Totley Close gym, with some going on to success at regional level.

As well as Shaun, Barry leaves another son, plus two daughters and nine grandchildren.