The Lion’s Boxing Club, in the heart of Brierley Hill, has been a haven for many, but none more so than Ashley Nixon.
Troubled with a life of addiction and crime, the drug dealer turned pastor cannot speak highly enough of the community group that has supported him through his darkest days:
“The Club has been a place of restoration for me during two major seasons of my life. The first was during my teenage years, following a pattern of destructive behaviour that began when I moved from Coventry to Stourbridge.
“When you’re young it’s sometimes hard to process your feelings, and the stress of moving to a new area caused me to spiral out of control.”
Following multiple prosecutions and the subsequent exclusion from school, Ashley was referred to the Lion’s Boxing Club by Dudley’s Youth Offending Team.
With a sense of purpose life was starting to look up for Ashley, this was only heightened when the Royal Marines visited:
“They came in to talk about the prospect of signing up to the Marines, this quickly became my life ambition. Now, with a renewed focus and all the help and support offered by the Club I was able to keep out of trouble.
“Inspired by my coaches, I qualified with a BTEC National Certificate in Sports Exercise and Science and attended my first selection weekend for the Royal Marines.
“I passed the weekend and was close to starting my new life, unfortunately the destructive tendencies remained. My career in the Marines was jeopardised and I fell away from the Boxing Club.”
Over the next few years, with a serious addiction, things went from bad to worse:
“I wasn’t a gangster, just a wannabe, trapped in a dangerous, out of control spiral that almost killed me. Finally, after a few years of living like this I ended up in prison.”
After a series of unfortunate events, it was in prison where Ashley discovered religion and returned to the outside world:
“Although I encountered God, once I left Prison, I found myself beginning to slip once again.
“What I needed was discipline and structure, a sense of belonging and purpose. Through a series of coincidences all the bad influences were removed from my life. I found more time to study the Bible and I returned to my childhood boxing club.
“I’ll always remember the first day I arrived back. Whilst I felt nervous returning after so long, all I received was warm welcomes and lots of encouragement.
“I can’t thank everyone at the Club enough for their love and support over the years.”
Ashley was met by one of the Club’s coaches Kevin Dillion:
“In typical Kev style, he just listened to what I said and completely accepted me with no judgement. That’s what I love about the Club, it’s a place where anybody is welcome”
The Lion’s Boxing Club gave Ashley the grounding to pursue his religious interests and turn his life around. He became the Midlands’ Novice Light-Middle Weight Champion and completed a degree, with First-Class Honours, at the Regents Theological College.
With wife Maria, he has been accepted as a Minister in Training within the Elim Pentecostal Movement and is currently looking for a church placement to begin ordination.
“Coming back to the Lion’s was like coming home. I’m doing what I can to give back to the community that has given so much to me.
“I developed a desire to do all I can to invest in the lives of others. There have been so many individuals, like me, who have found a sense of purpose and belonging here.
“Many within the local community know, value and respect the Club which reaches such a wide variety of individuals, offering them self-respect and the desire to better themselves.
“Clubs like the Lion’s, situated within the heart of communities, exist for the love of the sport and the individuals that make them. To run a club like this takes serious commitment from the coaches, mostly volunteers, who seek resources to provide the best possible outcomes for all the members who attend.”
The Lion’s Boxing Club is just one of thousands of projects that the Heart of England Community Foundation has supported over the last 23 years.
Community organisations address issues at grassroots level and, with our support, can directly improve the lives of the participants and those who live, work, and play in their communities.
Ashley’s story shows the life-changing impact that community organisations can have:
“Without the club and Jesus I’d probably be dead, or worse, seriously addicted to drugs with no hope of escape.”
If you’re part of a community organisation or project that makes a difference in the West Midlands then have a look at our available grants. If you or your organisation want to know how you could work with the Foundation to do more locally visit our giving page.