A SOUTH Tyneside boxing club has refused to be counted out, despite claiming council chiefs have delivered a blow to its hopes of moving into a £1.6m community hub.
Scores of members and supporters of Horsley Hill Amateur Boxing Club protested outside Marsden Road Health and Wellbeing Centre on Saturday, insisting South Tyneside Council has turned back on a pledge to give it a permanent place in the new facility.
Boxing club coaches, fighters and members held up posters calling for the council to help keep the club in the heart of Horsley Hill.
The club, famous for turning out a string of professional boxers over the last 40 years, currently has more than 50 members.
It was based at the site, known as Horsley Hill Community Centre before it was demolished in March 2012, but Brinkburn Community Centre, in McAnany Avenue, has been home to it since then.
The new centre will be a community hub for Horsley Hill, with an artificial sports pitch, gym and sports hall, as well as offering youth activities, events and rooms for hire.
The council insists that the boxing club is welcome at the revamped centre, managed by Groundwork South Tyneside and Newcastle, but says it will need to rent its sports hall on a permanent basis to do so.
GPs’ and dental surgeries are already operating from the site, expected to be fully opened within the next few weeks.
But boxing club members say they have been told they need to buy a fold-up ring to use in the sports hall, which they would have to assemble and pack up for each of their sessions.
Steve Winter, head coach and secretary, said: “We were promised that when the new building was completed, we would be given our own room for the club.
“Horsley Hill Boxing Club has been here for over 40 years. Generations of boxing families have come here.
“It is a community club. It is not just the boxing. We teach self-respect and discipline.
“We want to be part of this new community centre as we are a big part of the community.
“We have been told there will be a fee for us to be at the centre, and they say we can only use a fold-up ring which we would have to pack up and take away after sessions.
“We expected to be a permanent part of the centre. We feel let down by the council.”
A spokesman for the council said: “While we have been extremely supportive in accommodating the boxing club at Brinkburn Community Association with purpose-built boxing facilities, we would very much welcome the club’s return to the new Horsley Hill Community Hub.
“The council has worked with the club to ensure their specific requirements are embedded into the design of the building, but we also need to ensure the centre is financially viable in the future.
“Officers from the council have met with the boxing club to discuss the options available to them, and Groundwork staff recently organised a tour of the new facilities for club members.
“Options include renting the sports hall in the new centre on a permanent basis or remaining at Brinkburn, but also providing outreach training sessions using a pop-up boxing ring in the new centre.
“South Tyneside Council and Groundwork South Tyneside and Newcastle will continue to work with the club to try to resolve the matter.”