A Cambridgeshire man who is part of a four generation family boxing dynasty is channeling his love of the sport into training ex-offenders and disadvantaged youth.
Gary Davidson Junior grew up watching his dad, Gary Davidson Senior, run the famous Thomas A. Becket boxing gym on the London Old Kent Road.
Gary Senior was a formidable boxing talent and passed his appreciation of boxing to his son who used it to centre himself.
Gary said: “I was in and out of trouble, expelled from school, lots of different things were going on in my life when I was growing up. Boxing was my constant. What I get pleasure out of now is helping people.”
Now in Cambridge, Gary is passing on what pulled him out of his turbulent childhood to ex-offenders, disadvantaged kids, those with mental illness and people with disabilities.
He’s doing this all through his radically inclusive non-profit community gym run by himself and his family, the Albion Boxing Academy in Cherry Hinton, Cambridgeshire.
How boxing shaped a family and then a community
Gary’s father, Gary Davidson Senior, was a Southern Area Bantamweight Champion who ran the Thomas A. Becket gym from 1983 until he became ill with motor neurone disease in 1990. He passed away in 2000 aged just 46 but managed to impact the course of his young son’s life forever.
Gary Junior said: “As a young kid, growing up around gyms was a fantastic lifestyle. I used to see former boxers come in the gym such as European Champion Henry Cooper who fought Muhammad Ali, and his trainer Danny Holland.
“All the famous boxers of the 60s, 70s and 80s used to frequent the pub [underneath the Thomas A. Becket gym]. I used to go to all the big fights, it was something to aspire to.
“I used to look up to them and get advice. In those days it was different, there were no mobile phones or PlayStations to draw the kids away from the community.”
A lot has changed in the world of boxing since Gary’s dad and grandfather took their chances in the ring, but Gary has made it his mission to preserve the best bits of the old ways, and teach it to the young.
Gary said: “Boxing instills discipline, it instills respect, it teaches manners. It teaches a lot of life qualities that money can’t buy.”
After taking over from his father and making a name for himself boxing and running gyms in London and Mill Road in Cambridge he took over the upstairs of an old Conservative club on Cherry Hinton Road in 2018. The club still runs today with a dusty disco ball and worn velvet chairs.
Gary took the memorabilia from the boxing glory days and the Davidson dynasty, keeping the clubs 1940s wallpaper to recreate Gary’s childhood. The walls are covered with photos of his family’s victories, an old Thomas A. Becket sign, and newer photos of his son Harry Davidson’s fights in the Royal Navy.
He said: “This is the kind of gym I’m used to. It’s an old school, spit and sawdust kind of place. It reminds me of where I grew up.”
However, Gary said the community gym isn’t about recreating the glory days.
He said: “Initially [establishing the gym] was about giving kids opportunities who never really had any.
“We’re very strict on our social inclusion policies. We’ve got all different walks of life [training here]. It doesn’t matter what colour you are, what religion you are, what culture you follow, we try to integrate everybody in this gym from society under one roof as a big family.
“We take free referrals for anybody who has suffered mental health problems in and around Cambridge and we take all referrals from the Cambridgeshire police force for anyone who has come out of prison.”
Gary said the reason social inclusion is so important to his gym is because of his upbringing.
He said: “My dad was very strong on bullying. He hated bullies and I’m exactly the same. I’m not saying I had it tough growing up but boxing inspired me and now I’m passing that on.”
Gary runs the non-profit gym with his partner Paula Wells who teaches, coordinates the admin and runs the women-only sessions. Gary said the other trainers are like family to them, and their chosen family has recently grown with a new fluffy addition.
“His name is Roman Davidson,” Paula said introducing their 11-week old miniature pointer puppy. “He’s a morale booster… and he’s an entertainer! If anyone’s feeling a bit down he gives them kisses.”
Gary explained: “He’s supposed to be a guard dog, but we’ll wait till he’s a bit bigger.”
When he’s not with his puppy, Gary volunteers 25 hours each week at the gym on top of his full-time work as a NHS nutritionist. The gym even boasts a huge professional and amateur boxing team on top of their community classes.
Paula said their focus on mental health and community referrals encourages the trainees to come along and give it a try, creating opportunities for people to channel aggression into sport.
What’s more, there’s no upper age limit, teaching people well into their 70s and beyond.
Paula said: “You can come here and not be worried about how you look. It’s about who you are as a person and to other people, rather than what job you’ve got and how much money you earn. In other gyms you feel you’ve got to dress a certain way and be a certain shape to fit in, here you just turn up and you train hard.”
Gary has trained many professional fighters in his time but he said money doesn’t mean a thing to him. It’s the community and the kids he inspires that are important.
He said: “I like training the champions, but I also like bringing kids and adults through who haven’t had any opportunities.
“They might not make huge champions, but that’s not the point. A lot of kids around Cambridge need the qualities we teach. The community work we do is huge and we take it very seriously.”
Watch our video at the top of the page to meet the team.