The gloves are off as Frank Bruno backs award-winning mental health initiative

An innovative mental health scheme which uses boxing to help transform people’s lives has been praised by one of the sport’s biggest names.

Former world heavyweight champion Frank Bruno MBE gave his backing to the Fight Back Mental Health project, run by Dorset HealthCare with the support of Weymouth Boxing Club.

The weekly sparring sessions at the Hardwick Street gym use non-contact exercises in the boxing ring as a recovery treatment for both men and women suffering from varying levels of mental illness.

Speaking about the Fight Back group, Frank said: “This is a really impressive scheme which is obviously having a really positive impact on both men and women. The non-contact physical side of boxing has so many benefits. I know it gave me focus and structure throughout my career.”

Frank, who lost just four of his 45 professional fights during a 14-year career, also likened the scheme to the work done by his own registered charity – the Frank Bruno Foundation.

“Providing young people with structured exercise, advice and support through boxing helps to relieve social, emotional and mental distress that can affect their mental health. A fit body leads to a fit mind, and I back any scheme which helps promote this,” he added.

Fight Back was set up in 2014 by Lewis Chambers and his colleagues Vaughan Fellows and Matthew Rees – all qualified mental health support workers at Dorset HealthCare.

And the trio’s work was recently recognised at the NHS Trust’s annual staff Heroes Awards, scooping the ‘Improving Lives’ accolade.

Lewis said: “We have seen people transform their own lives through boxing. The initiative has given some the confidence to get back into work and, in one case, start up their own business. We also have a lady boxing in a forthcoming championship event.

“It is so rewarding to see people get their lives back on track and regain their self-belief, especially as many never imagined they would do this – let alone through boxing.”

Reba is 18 and has bipolar. She said: “I was admitted to a psychiatric ward at my worst and I closed myself off from the outside world for months. I felt so low and depressed I didn’t feel like doing anything.

“Since joining Fight Back, I feel like I’m a different person. It has completely changed my life and given me a new found freedom and I no longer feel held back because of my mental health.”

Frank Bruno was talking at a special event to raise awareness of mental health issues organised by Dorset HealthCare and Bournemouth University. The 55-year-old was a guest speaker at the event, where he talked about his own experiences of living with bipolar disorder and met representatives from local mental health services.

He also met a group of young people who recently produced a hard-hitting short film entitled #LifeUnfiltered.

The video suggests ways in which young people can improve their mental health and wellbeing, and attracted an incredible 4,300 views on social media in its first 12 hours online.

This article first appeared in the Independent. To get the latest articles when they appear, buy the print edition every Sunday or subscribe to our online edition HERE.