In theory, Slam H (which stands for Start Low, Aim High), a weight-training programme in Stourbridge, West Midlands, offers physical training and nutritional advice for NEETS – young people not in education or employment. In practice, it’s also a powerful tool for rebuilding confidence.
Former World’s Strongest Man – and holder of 26 world records for physical strength - ‘Big’ Dave Gauder trains personally with everyone who joins the project. “They get to know me, know my life, everything about me – but it all comes back to them, it shows them that they can turn their lives round too.” The lesson here is that mental strength is as achievable – and important - as physical.
And it’s a combination that works. “It’s just been so cool training with a bloke like Big Dave,” says Darren Young, 26, a former addict who has been coming to Slam H every day for the past two years. In that time he has been able to rebuild his relationships, most importantly with his three-year-old daughter. “I knew it was my opportunity. He’s an inspiration to change,” says Darren. “It’s given me confidence, focus.”
Kyle Bennett, 24, who served just over two years in jail before joining Slam H, tells a similar story. “Before I was in jail, if I looked at you and I didn’t like what I saw, I just wouldn’t talk to you,” he admits. “Jail made it even worse. And then I came here and met this bunch of lads - and now I’m a happy, social person.”
Over 60 ex-offenders have taken part in the Slam H programme since it started in 2012, and of those, the majority have been fully reintegrated into society, with many going on to get jobs.
“Big Dave really listens,” says Kyle. “He understands and makes time for you as well. That’s why I come down here. He’s had experience with weights and he’s worked with bullying schemes as well - he’s been there, done that, got the t-shirt.”
“If I didn’t come here I’d probably still be on drugs,” admits Darren. “I wouldn’t have my daughter in my life. I wasn’t a confident person. It’s really helped me see past all that kind of stuff. I’m staying off drugs, staying out of trouble. Staying alive.”
Slam H has received £9,500 in Lottery funding, which has gone towards gym hire, building a website and providing personalised programmes.