Leamington’s Kandola nominated for BBC Local Unsung Hero Award
November 25, 2019 | by Matt Halfpenny
Recently-formed Leamington Community Boxing Club is celebrating the nomination of coach Babs Kandola for the BBC Local Unsung Hero Award.
A popular figure in the Warwickshire town, who is renowned for his commitment and passion for voluntary community work, he has set up the new gym to focus on und-represented groups that might find training at other clubs too intimidating.
People can train with qualified coaches at various levels of intensity and Babs believes that sport should be for everyone, understanding that being part of something is hugely beneficial to mental health and emotional wellbeing which should be accessible to all in the local community.
After a suitable site was found for the club’s home, his networking skills have helped him convince a group of like-minded people to form a committee.
Kandola will find out if he has won the award at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year ceremony on Sunday 15th December held in Aberdeen, Scotland.
“The awards process is that nominations are entered into a local award for your BBC nation or region,” he explained. “After a panel discussion, the local winners are announced in each of the 15 regions.
“The 15 winners go to a national panel, of current and former sports stars and people active in sports volunteering. I am fortunate enough to have now made the final three at the local awards nominations.
“The BBC website says previous winners of the award have gone on to roles with government on projects related to improving mental health and tackling gang crime, to secure commercial partnerships with major sports brands, and even to be a guest of honour at Stevie Wonder’s birthday party, so it’s a real honour.”
Over the years, Kandola has been involved in countless programmes and initiatives and in the 1980s he set up the town’s first Asian football club Khalsa under 9s.
The club has grown and grown and now fields sides in all age groups from 9 to 16 years of age. They practise the Sikh belief of ‘Seva’ which translates to ‘doing things for goodwill’.
He also arranges an annual charity cricket match, which honours Conrad Lewis – one of his youth footballers who was sadly killed in Afghanistan in 2011 – to financially support returning soldiers.
Realising that his skills set could transcend different sports, in 2014 Kandola turned his attention turned to boxing. Over the last 5 years he has worked alongside established coaches at a local club and secured his England boxing coaching badges.
Earlier this year, he began the process of setting up the new Leamington club and this summer has been spent refitting the new headquarters with countless volunteer hours from the local community and tradespeople making this possible.
Kandola added: “We opened in September and are already running sessions for kids, teenagers and seniors at various levels.
“Students with learning difficulties that I teach at the local college access the club and there are plans to run more sessions for people with learning difficulties, as well as autism and dementia friendly sessions.”
Throughout the week Babs volunteers for at least four evenings of coaching at the club in addition to countless hours of networking and fundraising.
Fellow Community Club member Bec Wells says Kandola is the driving force behind the club quickly becoming the success it has.
“Babs noticed that boxing could reach many unexpected groups and that is why the club runs such diverse sessions,” she said. “Our male boxers benefit from his expertise, enthusiasm and contacts.
“Teenage girls can sometimes find it hard to train to compete, but seem to love boxing for the total body workout, stress relief and confidence that it gives. Women love the intensity and escapism training provides and our learning difficulties groups love to be coached in a professional environment.
“Babs’ networking skills are impressive and he is always on the lookout for new opportunities and ideas, so when he saw a sign about sports satellite clubs for under-represented groups he was keen to get involved.
“Within a few weeks there were 15 teenagers with no previous boxing skills training twice a week, then came the idea to train them as junior coaches to help at the club.
“Funding was found so we now have 14 Police Leader junior boxing coaches with First Aid qualifications and kit bags who, with the support of Babs, can run their own satellite clubs.
“We currently have two satellite clubs running – one for a group of women based at the local college and another for teenage girls who want to train like boxers based at the club. We hope to roll out more sessions in the future.
“Babs is empathetic, putting on yoga sessions for the group during exam periods and Krav Maga sessions for their personal safety.
“He hopes the club will help many people on many levels and those of us on the committee are tremendously proud to be involved in such a worthwhile venture.”
England Boxing Club Support Officer Mick Maguire added: “Babs is a tremendous character and his enthusiasm is very contagious.
“We at England Boxing were fortunate enough to have Babs as part of our Community Boxing celebration recently and his contribution was huge. We wish him the very best of luck for the awards finals and I cannot think of a more deserving recipient than Babs, were he to win.”