TUCKED away down the narrow Poplar Street in Somerton, is the Hope Community Centre.

From the outside, there’s nothing particularly eye-catching setting this building apart from any other community centre in Newport.

But take a look at what’s happening inside and it’s a totally different story.

This small community centre is home to one of Newport’s biggest success stories – Somerton Amateur Boxing Club.

South Wales Argus: Mark James (third from right) with some of the youngsters at his boxing club.Mark James (third from right) with some of the youngsters at his boxing club.

Last year, the club caught the attention of the Welsh boxing community when it produced three Welsh boxing champions.

And it’s all down to the hard work, passion, and dedication of its founder Mark James.

“We’ve come a hell of a long way,” Mr James told the Argus, on a visit to the Hope Centre.

“To think, when we set up, we had just a set of pads, and now we’re producing Welsh champions, it’s incredible.”

Mark James is Somerton born and bred. A former boxer himself back in his younger years, he’d almost cast the sport aside until a few youngsters in the area said they fancied giving it a go.

“I had a couple of lads in the area say they were interested in doing some boxing – that was back around 14 years ago.

“So, I ended up doing some coaching sessions with a couple of Welsh boxing coaches at the time and that how the club really came about.

South Wales Argus: Mark James is from Somerton and a former boxer himself.Mark James is from Somerton and a former boxer himself.

“I hadn’t thought of boxing for years – I was boxing up in Maindee from when I was 12 up until about 24 but had just completely lost interest in it – so it really got me back interested in the sport.

“And now it rules my life at the moment.”

The club’s appeal stretches way beyond the boundaries of Somerton, and Newport – with boys and girls coming from across South Wales to train with Mr James.

“We’ve got them coming from all over the place,” Mr James added.

“I have a young girl coming down from Caerphilly – we’ve got others coming from up in Torfaen, and we even get people come down for sparring sessions from as far as Swindon.”

But it’s clear that the club has had a huge impact on the area.

“There’s nothing around here for the kids to do really,” Mr James said.

“It gives them somewhere to go and it’s something that the community is really grateful for.”

For Mr James, the work that he does goes far beyond simply teaching youngsters how to box.

“I think what we do here is give young kids a huge confidence builder," he said.

“We had one young lad who was really shy when he first came to us and didn’t really feel comfortable speaking or socialising, but within a few weeks he was a totally different character.

“Similarly, we’ve got a young girl coming to us who’s been having some issues with being bullied at school, so this is giving her confidence.

“We want to bring them out of their shell and give them goals to aspire towards.”

Mr James certainly puts the youngsters through their paces – with training sessions every Monday and Wednesday – with running sessions on a Tuesday.

But it’s that process of encouragement and aspiration that’s brought about one of the club’s proudest achievements – three Welsh boxing champions.

Senior boxer Zack Hickman, and brothers Gurdas and Raj Singh all returned to Newport victorious at the Welsh Boxing Championships last November.

“We’re over the moon for them,” Mr James said.

“And it’s great for our other youngsters to see their success too because gives them an extra drive to achieve their own goals.”

South Wales Argus: Gurdas Singh (left) Zack Hickman (middle) and Raj Singh (right) are all Welsh boxing champions.Gurdas Singh (left) Zack Hickman (middle) and Raj Singh (right) are all Welsh boxing champions.

As for the future of the club, Mr James is hoping for more of the same.

“We’re going from strength to strength here. Our goal is to get more Welsh champions really and then who knows – some of them might decide to take it up professionally.”

  • This is one of a series of 'Our City' features looking at Newport and the people who call it home.