YOUNGSTERS are getting the chance to change their futures thanks to a boxing scheme.

Former British and Commonwealth heavyweight champion Scott Welch has launched a scheme at Brighton and Hove ABC (amateur boxing club) at the King Alfred Leisure Centre in Hove.

The WBC Cares In The Community programme provides training and focus for youngsters who have been excluded from school or referred from youth offender teams.

Mr Welch, who has run the gym for the past 20 years, said the scheme is looking to expand across Sussex and could help stop knife crime.

He said: “There is an epidemic out there. We need to crush it as quickly as possible. Last week we had a young man aged 17 who was the first man referred to us after a firearms offence.

“We are trying to educate and help the next generation coming up, looking to stop these kids getting into trouble.

“I was a young offender myself, and I felt lost with no direction. I walked into this gym when I was 16 and it has become like my home ever since.

“But when you walk into a gym like this, we say ‘hey, have you tried this, let’s give it a go’.”

The gym was visited by Brighton and Hove Mayor Dee Simson yesterday to add her support for the pilot scheme, which has been running in the city for several months.

It follows an 11 per cent recorded rise in knife crime between September 2013 and September 2018, and recent incidents involving children as young as ten brandishing knives.

Among those attending sessions at the gym was 13-year-old Harvey Stone, who started ten weeks ago.

The Peacehaven teenager was referred when he was excluded from school, and now attends four or five sessions each week where he completes activities like shadow boxing and sparring.

He said: “I would get into fights at school, so I got referred into this programme. I’ve enjoyed making new friends here, and working on strength and conditioning.

“If I ever became good enough, I would like to be a boxer. I’ve already improved my stamina, and I don’t feel like fighting any more.”

Manager Paul Davies said many of the youngsters have a mentality in school where they simply don’t want to obey and be ordered what to do.

He said the scheme helps give them something to be enthusiastic about, in stark contrast to their experience in school.

Mr Welch said they are inspired by stars like Chris Eubank Junior who has trained there, while other champions such as Lennox Lewis have also visited. There are plans to expand the WBC Cares scheme to Crawley and Worthing in the near future.

The scheme currently involves more than 700 children who have had difficulties or committed crime.

He said: “Many of the kids come from tough backgrounds, and you have to be tough to step into a boxing gym in the first place.

“But this shows them that boxing can give them an aim in life. We are not just making future boxers, but future champions in life.”