A SOUTHEND gym is helping to fight serious crime by offering free membership to any youngster who hands in a knife.

James Chisholm, owner of the Locker Room, is hoping to turn around the lives of young people with the scheme.

He has seen at first hand the impact on young people when they get in with the wrong crowd.

James, 40, from Rayleigh, said: “I see on a daily basis the behaviours of youths around the town – kids coming from disadvantaged areas or broken homes are mixing with the wrong friends.

“Not only is this about handing in a knife, the bigger picture of course is giving kids the opportunity to change the path they are heading and feel a belonging here at the Locker Room.”

James says his idea will benefit young people by giving them another interest or hobby.

He added: “I know the final difference boxing can make to people’s lives, from social integration and group cohesion with like-minded people, to striving to become a better version of themselves.

“This is something we ran alongside the council a few years ago. It was very successful, as it was a rewards-based scheme in which youths had to follow the rules and stay on the programme or they went back into probation.”

He plans to approach Southend Council and Essex Police to re-establish the rewards scheme.

James added: “In the meantime I’m asking youths who feel the need to carry a knife in fear of their own safety or who may feel pressured to do so by gang members, to come and see me in the strictest of confidence to hand in their knives.

“Providing they follow the rules, I will do my utmost best at the club to encourage, support and guide them in the right direction.”

The gym, in Clifftown Road, is offering a membership providing free access to boxing club sessions at the gym.

James added: “There will be no charge for this membership – in life everyone must do their bit so we all at least feel safe walking our streets.

“I feel that opening this offer up to all ages is so important. The younger we can help them, the easier it will be to help resolve these issues before it becomes a far bigger problem.

“As a parent of three who are becoming teenagers, it’s pushed me to want to help even more.”

He added: “I come from one of the toughest council estates in Ireland, landed in England without a penny and had to build a life.

“It’s all about mentoring, goal setting and structure. I know boxing is therapy and how it has helped me and many people steer out of trouble and stay on the correct path in life.

“On many occasions at the gym, we have taken people from the streets to representing the club at competitive level.”