John Dennen speaks to Q Shillingford about amateur boxing’s Win with the Jab campaign and building trust in communities
AMATEUR boxing has started a campaign to support the rollout of the coronavirus vaccination programme, encouraging everyone to take up the vaccine when they are invited to do so. With almost 1,000 clubs and 20,000 members around the country at the onset of the pandemic, England Boxing is uniquely placed to help the NHS reach into local communities and continue the momentum that has seen millions receive their first dose of the vaccine.
Heart of Portsmouth coach Q Shillingford helped to set up the campaign. He’d previously helped with a public health campaign and a contact of his in the NHS had approached him about vaccination. “I said yeah, let me try and make it bigger than Portsmouth. Let’s try and make it national and it has [gone national], they’ve done a really good job in fact,” Shillingford said.
England Boxing took on the campaign, bringing in boxers, like Olympic medallist Anthony Ogogo, coaches and volunteers to support the #WinWithTheJab campaign. There is hesitancy among some groups about having the vaccine. The aim of this effort is to dispel misconceptions. “It does my head in, some of the stuff you see on social media, it’s absolute poppycock. [But] you’ve got to put yourself in other people’s shoes. Because I was military, I’ve always had vaccines,” Shillingford said. “I think wait a minute Q, they’re not in the same environment as you are.
“The last thing they heard, someone told them who didn’t know what he was talking about, so naturally that’s all they’ve got to believe in.”
“It’s all about what they’re hearing,” he continued. “These people are not stupid, they’re not thick it’s just they haven’t got the means that you have. They have to go on what they’ve been told.”
On Thursday (April 1) he will be doing a question and answer session live on England Boxing’s facebook with Professor Anton Emmanuel to address queries and concerns. Professor Emmanuel is NHS England’s lead for Workforce Race Equality and leading neuro-gastroenterologist. “The NHS has made fantastic progress in vaccinating the most vulnerable people in society and it is vital that we continue this momentum as supplies allow,” he said. “We’ll be working with England Boxing to answer the questions and concerns of people from a range of communities, and to make sure that everyone knows that this vaccine is safe and effective for all, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or class.”
Boxing clubs and coaches are trusted in their communities. In Shillingford’s case he has a particular bond with the Sudanese community in Portsmouth. That has been forged over years. “What happened was a Sudanese guy came in, I said alright mate, he went I really like boxing, I used to do it in the military when I was in Sudan. I didn’t do much but I really liked it and I want to learn how to box. To cut a long story short, he’s now one of our most experienced coaches. He’s been with us for over a decade,” Q said.
There was some reluctance for more from that community to get involved. So Shillingford invited himself to a meeting at their community centre. “I’m coming in to do a speech to tell them how cool they all are and how I want them in my gym,” he said. “Went there, I had a translator, I did a demo, got the leader to do pads, got the kids up and stuff like that. The next minute, bingo, they all realised you’ve done that deed of trust.”
Now two Sudanese boxers are stars for the club. One won the novice championships and Q took Ahmed Abdelrahman to the World championships. “They’re household names in Portsmouth. Now I’m like part of the Sudanese community,” Shillingford said. “We organised it all, we got to Russia and he saw his flag at the opening ceremony and it was up throughout the tournament, all the flags were, and he was just happy. He lost… but he didn’t make a fool of himself, he got in there and gave 100 percent and everyone was proud of him.”
“Just a little bit of time, by going to that meeting and we’ve got top kids now and even better, as much as it’s good to have titles and stuff like that, the Sudanese community are picking the boxing gym because they trust the boxing gym to come in and have a vaccine. That’s unbelievable,” Q continued.
“Who would have thought an ethnic group, a community would choose, over their own hall, a boxing gym. And [they] just said everyone will come there.”