Firefighters are hoping to help turn around the lives of troubled youngsters on Wearside with the opening of a new community hub.
Sunderland Community Hub (SCH) has been created at the city's central fire station in Millfield to help young people develop physical and social skills through boxing, with the aim of making them champions in the ring and in life.
To attend the, a young person will have to be referred from a number of organisations including Northumbria Police, Early Help and education teams.
In recent months, attacks on firefighters have seen a rise and it is hoped that those found to have been involved in the incidents can be referred to the hub in a bid to put them on the right path in life.
Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS) is also looking at working with a number of other agencies through the programme.
Eight TWFRS and County Durham and Darlington Fire Service (CDDFRS) employees have volunteered to work with the young people at the hub, providing them with skills and mentoring to improve their physical and mental health, educational attainment and employability.”
TWFRS's Grant Brotherton, head of prevention and education, said: “Young people today face many challenges – especially with the ever present threats of involvement in anti-social behaviour, alcohol and drug misuse, arson and much more.
"Often peer pressure and the lack of guidance can lead young people into trouble that can blight their futures.
"As a service we have to tackle anti-social behaviour on a daily basis.
"And sadly we are also the victims of it, with attacks and verbal abuse on our firefighters.
"We believe that boxing can be a great way to help young people – both boys and girls – to improve their life skills and divert them away from crime.
"Having experienced coaches can provide positive role models who will help young people to increase their self-esteem and their chance to go on to become useful members of our community.”
Initially, the facility, which has created after funding from the East Area Committee, will be open two nights per week on a Wednesday and Friday, 6.30pm to 8.30pm and will cater for young peopled aged 10 to 18 years.
The hub was formally opened by Sunderland mayor Councillor Lynda Scanlan while professional boxing brothers Thomas and Martin Ward were also on hand to show their support.
Chief fire officer Chris Lowther said: "If we get young people into this club we can create future champions in the ring and champions for the community of Sunderland.
"Boxing and the fire service are both about hard work and dedication and we to put the two together to make this a positive force for the city."
Coun Scanlan said: “Working together with our community partners we want to provide young people with all the opportunities that we can to help their individual, personal development.
"Access to new sporting facilities like this is a vital part of that continual process, as getting involved in regular physical activities and training can help improve all aspects of life and social skills.”