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Meet the kickboxer fighting knife crime and gang culture in Ipswich with new classes

PUBLISHED: 19:02 10 December 2019

Former Suffolk kickboxer Gary Staff is working alongside Suffolk police to stop children joining gangs  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Former Suffolk kickboxer Gary Staff is working alongside Suffolk police to stop children joining gangs Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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An Ipswich kickboxing coach has praised youngsters for joining in new martial arts classes set up in a bid to combat gang culture.

Lori Harvey, Richard Godfrey, Gary Staff and James Cornforth from the Jab Not Stab sessions  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNLori Harvey, Richard Godfrey, Gary Staff and James Cornforth from the Jab Not Stab sessions Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Gary Staff, who owns Ipswich Kickboxing Academy in Westgate Street, set up his Jab Not Stab classes after growing tired of seeing young people in the town joining violent gangs.

The 12-week sessions, running every Friday, teach children between 10 and 16 the martial art Muay Thai - firmly based on self-discipline and self-awareness.

Suffolk Constabulary has also been working alongside the academy to help fund the project, after seeing an increase in proportion of under-20s being involved in knife crime.

Mr Staff said: "With all this crime going on and the kids' behaviour on the streets these days, my plan is to get as many in as possible and teach them a sport.

Mr Staff is currently teaching the children Muay Thai to stop them falling into a life of knife crime  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNMr Staff is currently teaching the children Muay Thai to stop them falling into a life of knife crime Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

"So far it's helping - it's working big time. The kids are doing really well.

"After 12 weeks we want to integrate them into my club as well so they can continue their journey - and hopefully, that's them off the street."

Although some may fear teaching children to fight could fuel the problem, Mr Staff insists the discipline they learn in his classes is exactly what they need to stay on the straight and narrow.

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Pc Richard Godfrey, of Suffolk police, said: "Suffolk Police is really proud to be working with local partners to kick start this exciting new project to support young people.

"The aim of the Jab not Stab initiative is to support young people from all walks of life, building confidence through sport and to provide them with mentors and role models through kickboxing classes.

"The programme has been running since October and the support from the instructors has been phenomenal.

"Following an evaluation of this initial programme in Ipswich, we hope to be able to secure further funding to extend the programme and help more young people across Suffolk and East Anglia."

Earlier this year it was reported Suffolk saw the highest rise in knife crime across England and Wales, increasing 51% from 146 in 2017/18 to 221 in 2018/19.

The higher figure includes the death of Tavis Spencer-Aitkens in Ipswich.

His father and step-mother have since also set up a youth club in Nansen Road.

Suffolk police and crime commissioner Tim Passmore has regarded the issue of knife crime as a "growing problem".

Following the end of the current class, Mr Staff hopes to take on another 12 children for the next batch of kickboxers.

Those interested in signing up for the next set of sessions should contact the Ipswich Kickboxing Academy on 01473 233633 or Pc Godfrey directly.

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