A former London gang member who runs boxing classes to draw young people away from crime, has been recognised in the New Year Honours list.
Stephen Addison, who has been awarded the British Empire Medal, says he was prompted to turn his life around by a bad dream in which he saw himself jailed for murder.
It spurred him on to rejoin his parents’ church and go to university.
Since 2013 Stephen has helped more than 4,000 young people change their lives.
He was a keen boxer himself until the age of 15 when he says he was distracted into gangs.
His behaviour deteriorated to the extent that he was asked to leave his school in Barking, East London, and for the next five years, made a living through crime.
But, he says, a “random dream” one night changed his life – he was so shocked at the idea that he might commit murder that he was determined to change.
He told his friends he was leaving the gang way of life, went back to his parents’ church and applied to South Bank University to study business. At university he took up boxing again and, when he won gold in a major university boxing championship, his story was covered in the newspapers.
While he was looking at the papers, he spotted another piece, about a friend from his gang days who himself had just been jailed for life for murder.
The contrast made him determined to go back to his community in East London and help young people like himself escape a life of crime.
His dissertation was about setting up a boxing academy – he got a first – and the university was so impressed it put money behind a pilot project which he ran in August 2013 for about 100 young people.
His organisation, Box Up Crime, now works with about 600 young people every week in schools, pupil referral units and community centres mainly in Barking and Dagenham and is looking to expand across the capital and beyond.
The project uses boxing training, along with individual mentoring and a focus on education, to develop self-discipline and boost educational and social skills.
Stephen was even invited to run a behaviour programme at Barking Abbey, the school he was asked to leave as a teenager, and where he is now a governor.
He says many of the young people he works with are very similar to himself. He calls them: “dirty diamonds”, and he believes all are capable of the same transformation.
“I want to see those dirty diamonds shine again.”
He tells them the hard work of finding their potential will be down to them and believes they just need support: “They just need someone to believe in them, motivate them.”
He hopes the award will mean that: “Young people can look at me and look at my life and say, ‘Stephen was involved in gangs… Stephen was involved in all this messed-up stuff just like me but he’s been able to turn it around and and I can do the same thing.'”
Stephen’s award comes alongside an OBE for another Londoner, Mark Prince, who has given around 200 school talks since losing his own son Kiyan to knife crime in 2006.
Through his work Mr Prince tries to raise awareness of the dangers of gang and knife crime and personally mentors dozens of young people.
Other education honours include:
- A CBE for Ruth Miskin, creator of the widely used Read Write primary school reading programme
- An MBE for Andria Zafirakou, associate deputy head, Alperton Community School, and winner of the 2018 Global Teacher Prize
- And Prof Madeleine Atkins, former head of the Higher Education Funding Council becomes a dame.