An inclusive boxing gym in Bootle is providing a lifeline for thousands of people across Merseyside, many with additional needs.

The Inclusive Hub, based on Thornton Road, started in 2016 and has grown to a membership of more than 2,500 people.

Liam Starkey (pictured) and his father Gerard work seven days a week to provide the best services for members of the club.

Mr Starkey, 39, used to work for car manufacturer BMW but found his real passion in helping those who need it.

“We started at a different boxing gym (Rotunda ABC), at the time they had a lot of professionals.

Liam Starkey owner of the Inclusive Hub - pic courtesy of Stephen White
Liam Starkey owner of the Inclusive Hub – pic courtesy of Stephen White

“We found through the art of boxing we could help children with autism.

“From the hourly sessions, the group grew considerably, with a huge amount of people with additional needs; autism, down syndrome, and visual and audible needs. It has changed their lives.

“We also have a women’s group supporting those who have suffered domestic violence.

“We have a men’s group that supports people who want to get back into employment, many live in areas with high levels of unemployment.

“Parents are happy with the respite, it is non-contact but we use gym and boxing equipment.

“The benefits include losing weight, having aspirations, and lowering medication usage and costs. No negative comes from.”

Stephen White, parent of Connor who attends the club, said the facility was important for members’ health and wellbeing.

He said: “Most of these children, including my Connor, didn’t find time to exercise.

“This place is always open. My son loves it, he won’t miss it, ever. It’s non-contact but it’s everything else a boxing gym is.

“This place has taken off, it was small. Liam has worked constantly to up the game.

“You don’t get some of the equipment in the expensive gyms.

“My son doesn’t speak, he communicates through sign language so it adds to his confidence.”

Despite the growing membership, community projects rely on funding to survive.

Grants from Sport England and the national lottery help however they need to be applied for with no guarantee of being accepted.

“We have worked multiple jobs, coaching, but the business aspect also.

“We have to apply for grants, and we do pay decent wages but the team we have is very like-minded in terms of high-quality coaches and mentors.

Members of the Inclusive Hub - pic by Luke Davies, MSL
Members of the Inclusive Hub

“Small grants from Sport England and the National Lottery are provided; both fantastic funders but there’s no guarantee. We do rely on local and national companies sponsoring us.

“It is so hard financially, despite the great service we are only ever six months away from going under.”

The club was featured on Sky Sports gaining the support of several high-profile figures in the boxing world.

“We have had a lot of support from the boxing community. We’ve had Eddie Hearn, Nigel Benn, Conor Benn and Enzo Maccarinelli supporting us.”

Tricia Vaughan’s nephew has autism, and attends the club every Saturday.

“This is the only thing he will come to despite trying several things,” she said.

“We’ve tried swimming, he has a younger brother who has a disability as well. It is hard.

“He came here through school, he knew a lot of people.

“One of Liam’s big things is touch. It has taken a while but the coaches are used to him and his ways, they know how to cater to his needs, and this makes him feel comfortable and safe.”

Donate here: