Old pub revamped into drop-in boxing gym in Kirkby-in-Ashfield thanks to Wheldon's vision
FROM the outside, it appeared a frail, neglected, boarded-up public house. It was just another one up for sale, its future looking bleak.
But through sheer hard graft and the vision of Richard Wheldon and a kind offer from the company in possession of the Waggon pub in Chapel Street, Kirkby-in-Ashfield, it could now be a place of hope for people in the local community.
The former amateur boxer has been running his own boxing gym from a small base on a local haulage firm's car park. But now, with plenty of elbow grease, the 35-year-old has turned this old, run down pub into the home of Kirkby Amateur Boxing Club.
And the drop-in gym means anybody can simply pull up and give the sport a try, or simply use the base to get fit.
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Wheldon has quit his job as a plasterer to run the facility full time and he said all the graft over the winter weeks has been worth it now the disused pub has been turned into something the area can be proud of.
"I boxed at Mansfield and Huthwaite and I trained a lad whose dad had a gym at his haulage firm," said Wheldon. "Then I suddenly had loads coming down training and I thought about moving to my own place.
"The pub had been shut a few years and entering it, it made you want to cry. The pipe-work had gone, the lead off the roof taken by thieves and it was like walking into a shower.
"I approached the company, told them of the situation and how it is a not-for-profit boxing club. I told them why I was doing this.
"And they have allowed me to have it for the next two years minimum, but it could be taken up to five years. All I have to do is pay the insurance on the building and make sure I hand the building back in no worse state than it was found. That's brilliant.
"I got in two weeks before Christmas and literally got to work on doing everything. I am a plasterer by trade so I was doing all that.
"I had family, friends, everybody coming and helping out putting new ceilings in, jobs to the roof, ripping things out. It was crazy and sometimes you wonder, what am I doing?"
Wheldon is running packed classes for women who want to use boxing to get fit, as well as training up-and-coming amateur fighters.
An amateur show is set to take place at the nearby Festival Hall in April and he is also working alongside the probation service to help rehabilitate previous offenders.
"We are doing all sorts here," said the enthusiastic Wheldon. "I have quit my job to run this walk-in boxing gym. There are ladies' boxing sessions – I had 20 ladies to a boxing class the other day and the place is packed out. I do one-to-one coaching, courses for probationers.
"People say it is dangerous taking them on but it is nothing like that. They come and it gives them discipline, gets them fit, thinking about diet. It gives them something to aim for.
"We also have our first boxing show at the Festival Hall coming up and I have five registered boxers and Jordan Cameron is one of them. He is a real talent.
"I want to take these lads, turn them professional and stick with them and concentrate on them. That is an aim of mine. I will then do my pro license, my corner badges. As well as running this venue I am out taking these lads to shows all over, like Cleethorpes the other night for a show.
"I have a wife and two young kids as well, so I am definitely being kept busy."
Despite the long hours, Wheldon has got the support of his family because they know how much it means to him. And already, even in its infancy, he believes the new, revamped venue is making a difference to the community.
"I ripped out the bar and created a weights room," he said. "It is a pay-as-you-go gym and people can just walk in and pay £3 and get stuck in and you have a qualified boxing coach there. It helps with people to fit it around work. I am here all day.
"Kids could be hanging out on the streets around here, getting into trouble, drinking. But this gives them a chance to get involved with a sport and do something with their lives. I have been in the sport a long time and I have seen how it can turn lives around. It can change lives.
"I love what I do and it has cost me a lot of money and takes up a lot of time but I do not do it for the money. You just have to love what you do and working with these kids, I love it.
"I walk in there now and look at what we have turned it into and it is great to see. People should pop in, come and use the facilities and see what we are all about. It's a great place to be."