The young people, who come from a diverse range of communities and backgrounds, have been encouraged, through the Ice Academy programme, to work together to overcome challenges, supporting wellbeing and better life chances.
Few people know more about the life-changing power of sport than Carl Frampton. Curiosity drove a seven-year-old Frampton 200m from the front door of his home in Tiger’s Bay, Belfast to Midlands Boxing Club in the mid-nineties. But it was hard work, determination and making the right choices at the right time that helped him realise his dream of becoming a world champion.
Having grown up in an interface community, he witnessed first-hand the effect that early choices have had on the life prospects of some of his peers. Recounting his personal story, Frampton told the young people assembled in W5's lecture theatre that his story could have been much different, if it were not for sport and the positive influences in his formative years.
Speaking at the event, he said: “I was very quiet when I was younger. I lacked confidence. Growing up in Tiger’s Bay – a staunch loyalist area, on the interface with the New Lodge - there were bigger forces at work that tried to drive division between the two communities.
“I’m not religious and I don’t see any difference between me and the next person, but it was exciting and there wasn’t much else to do. So, like any young lad growing up in my neighbourhood, I got involved in my fair share of things I shouldn’t have – riots, drinking, chasing girls. Some of these are things I’m not proud of.
“But I really respected my boxing coach, Billy McKee. I was always fearful of Billy finding out and as I got older, his influence started to make me rethink things and take boxing more seriously. That fear kept me out of trouble.
“The best advice I can give you is to pick your role models wisely – someone wise, with a sensible head. Billy was my main mentor in life. He was so wise. I respected him and listened to what he had to say. I have no doubt things could have been very different for me, if I didn’t have his support and mentorship in my life.”
The Odyssey Ice Academy launched in 2018 and provides young people that have been in care or suffered from mental health challenges a unique opportunity to learn through leisure and recreation to work together to overcome challenges, supporting wellbeing and better life chances.
Over the last few months, 15 participants have taken part in the Ice Academy programme, which includes on-ice sessions with the Belfast Giants, coupled with professional ‘off the ice’ training, including sessions in communications, fitness, volunteering, diversity, teamwork, and skills training. At the end of the Academy, the students will graduate, as they are officially recognised as Community Giants - Class of 2021/2022.
The initiative has been funded by the Odyssey Trust and the Department for Communities (DfC) as part of the Executive’s Together: Building a United Community Strategy. Project partner, Include Youth provides ongoing mentoring support to help build self-esteem, confidence and resilience as the young people transition into adulthood. The programme is one of several initiatives supported by the Belfast Giants' community outreach partner, Belfast Harbour.
Jeff Mason, Assistant Coach for the Belfast Giants said: “We would like to thank Carl for sharing his story with our Ice Academy participants. Through this programme, we aim to inspire our young people to understand the power of sport and how leisure and recreation can open doors and minds. Hearing in Carl’s own words how sport, exercise and the community support he found in boxing changed his life was incredibly powerful for our young people.”