kid gloves! Dudley based boxing club helps set up new school

Opening of Priory Park Community School, Dudley, a new independent school founded by Priory Park Boxing Club. Pictured front left, Paul Faulkner , Paul Gough and head teacher Stuart Playford..

Priory Park Community School opened its doors this month in the heart of Dudley’s Wren’s Nest estate.

The brainchild of Priory Park Boxing Club chairman Paul Gough, the school will offer an alternative education to children in the borough who require it most, mixing traditional learning with sporting activities and vocational courses.

“We’re pretty unique,” ​​explains headteacher Stuart Playford. “I’m not aware of anything like this happening anywhere else.

“We have very different parties which have come together and have the same vision of wanting to help people.”

Opening a school had been a long-term ambition of Gough but the project really began to gather speed when he met with Playford in the summer of 2020.

The club had already forged close links with several schools including Wolverhampton’s Braybrook Centre, where Playford was then headteacher, with boxing regularly used as an intervention to help troubled youngsters get back on track. But together Gough and Playford wanted to take things a step further.

“We agreed it was crazy we were sending people over from Wolverhampton to Dudley to receive mentoring, when there are young people in Dudley crying out for it as well,” says Playford.

“It was a case of ‘why don’t we set up a provision in Dudley?’ What we wanted was a school where young people could receive education and mentoring and the formula which works for the benefit of them.”

“It is what the boxing club has been doing for generations,” continues Gough. “We all think the same sort of way. We want to help these youngsters.”

Initial progress was frustratingly slow, with Playford speaking of a series of “brick walls”.

But things then moved rapidly when the scheme got the backing of Dudley North MP Marco Longhi and borough council leader Patrick Harley, after the pair were treated to a two-hour presentation of the plan at the Priory Park gym in late 2020.

The location – an old learning center on Meadow Road – was quickly sourced, with the formal application to found the school submitted last April. An Ofsted inspection following three months later.

The school, which has been registered as a Community Interest Company, has an initial intake of 12 students, which will rise to 35 by the summer. Of those, 20 will be on educational health and social care plans, though there will also be 15 preventative places set aside from which students at risk of exclusion from mainstream schools can be referred. The number of full-time staff will also increase from nine to 15 over the course of the coming months.

A typical day will see academic studies take place in the morning, with the afternoon is given over to sporting and vocational activities. While a large part of that will be provided by Gough and his team at the boxing club, it is by no means the only offering. A further link-up with the YMCA also allows an after-school provision.

“Between the three of us we can provide a wrap-around service for young people, right from 8.30 in the morning until eight at night,” says Playford.

“A lot of academic studies we will try to do as early as we can. That is a formula we found worked well in Wolverhampton.

“It is easier to get young people engaged in those subjects in the morning before lunch. Then, after lunch, we will do more vocation.

“We will go to Priory Park or get on the mountain bikes and go to the Wren’s Nest or mechanical work. There are so many possibilities.”

Longhi, who has previously referenced Priory Park’s work at Prime Minister’s Questions, described Gough as the project’s “standard bearer” while praising his “energy and resilience” in helping keep it on track.

For those who know the club’s story that comes as no surprise. Over the course of nearly three decades Gough’s drive has helped establish Priory Park as one of the most successful gyms in the country, winning countless titles but most importantly helping transform hundreds if not thousands of lives.

The contacts Gough has built during that period remain crucial. A £10,000 donation from property developers Richardsons, long-time supporters of the club, was key to getting the school scheme off the ground.

Gough, who has been appointed a governor at the school, is not the type to rest on his laurels and already his sights are set on the next project. Talks are ongoing with the council about the possibility of building a BMX track and skate park on land next to the school. He will also consider opening a small boxing gym in the youth center next door which, fittingly, was the original home of the Priory Park club when it first opened in the 1970s.

“When the boxing club was next door this area was much better,” says Gough. “When the club moved, the area started to go worse.

“Right now the Wren’s Nest has got nothing. Everything has shut down. Nothing really works. The kids have nothing to do and they become disruptive.

“So we are looking to build more things this way. I know they would like their own boxing club over here. Priory is so well known. We want to build something over here. If it is a sub boxing club to Priory, then great.

“In terms of the BMX and skate park, we’d want to get the kids involved in building it. Not just something with a load of money being put there for them. We are not just thinking about the school but the area as a whole.”

“It’s been a busy 18 months,” Playford added. “But I am so proud. I have only ever worked for maintained schools before so it is a bit of a step into the unknown.

“But we have the vision of working with young people and supporting young people. There are lots of schools using boxing as an intervention but I don’t think anyone has gone as far as us.”

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