In 2017 Adam Ballard and Ben Eckett launched Gloves Not Gunz (GNG) as a passion project which they self-funded and volunteered their time. Following GNG, Urban Yogis UK (UYUK) was launched with the goal to provide support to young people and communities by sharing Yoga as a tool to help with everyday life.
Now, in 2023, Ben and Adam (and the GNG and UYUK teams) are delivering programmes all over London, sponsored by the biggest sports brand in the world, and set to deliver international work starting in Barbados this year.
Just recently Ben, Adam, Hannes and Clarence represented GNG in Barbados after the organisation was invited to the country by their government at the end of 2022. With the island seeing an increase in gun and knife crime over the last few years, the trip provided the opportunity to explore how @glovesnotgunz could offer support around serious violence and crime. And 2023 will see more trips to Barbados and also hosting representatives from Barbados here on home soil.
Growing globally – and locally – is in part because of the unique partnership shared between Ben and Adam. While the two certainly share a passion for boxing, martial arts and football, they also stand united as being advocates for marginalised communities—and the young people within these communities. They don’t just talk, they act. And it’s this humble approach to making real change which makes these two guys everyday heroes.
We sat down with the two Croydon dads to find out a bit about the lessons they’ve learned, helpful advice (received and to share), and where you might find them when they aren’t at the boxing club!
So it’s been going six years since starting GNG. Talk a bit about the journey and how you’ve helped each other as friends and business partners?
Ben: We really had to self-teach other about the business. Apart from running the boxing club and the surf club, when it came to the whole business thing, we literally had to learn on the job. This was great as we didn’t really want to learn business in a traditional setting.
Adam: I think being self-taught allows you to see there’s a lot of bullshit out there, and a lot of fakers.
Me and Ben have always been very transparent and honest about who and what we are.
We are very young person-centred and maybe, sometimes, overprotective (if there is such a thing) on the side of caution in terms of exposing our young people to media and stuff.
What’s the main lesson you’ve learned since launching?
Adam: Believe in yourself, back yourself. We’ve questioned ourselves over a period of time because we haven’t run businesses, but we’ve got to a point of trusting our instinct now on a lot of things.
Ben: We’ve stayed true to our values and beliefs. For example, in marketing where we’ve had so many opportunities of having the news or certain people involved in the project, but we’ve chosen not to forfeit our loyalty to young people and our values. Another lesson is hard work. We’ve worked our asses off, alongside both working full time with families.
What’s your advice for young people – or any age – who are struggling at the moment?
Adam: To try something. I felt I was engineered with employment and life situations to always be conservative, and that stability is the most important thing. But I feel sometimes people will just stay doing the same thing all their life—staying in the same area, thinking they’ve got the answers for everything. I believe there is value in the experience of trying something new – even if just for a day. Never say never.
Ben: There’s something about using your adversity in a positive way as a motivation to do well and work hard. Too often in society we can use excuses for certain actions. Don’t get me wrong, there are things like trauma which will affect people massively, but we’re almost getting to the point where there’s an excuse for everything. I feel we can use our hardships as a motivator to do better.
Also, advice for young men is that it’s okay to be sensitive and vulnerable and talk about things which are not great.
Communication is vital….
Adam: Yes! Talking in general. There’s been a spike again in serious offence in Croydon last year – stabbings and shootings – and that isn’t great. So teaching young people who are from an area with a lot of conflict, a lot of violence, that actually talking to people from different backgrounds can be helpful.
Have the confidence to speak to people, to take life and grab it by the bollocks.
Who’s your biggest role model and why?
Ben: It’s hard because there have been loads of people who’ve done little things that’ve had massive impacts on my life. So I couldn’t just put it down to one person, but rather a combination of family, friends, and my wife. Adam’s probably the same—we wouldn’t be able to do this without our wives.
Adam: My dad. He’s the bollocks!
Best advice you’ve ever been given?
Adam: Back myself. Back yourself. My nan always says back yourself, whatever situation you’re in in life, just back yourself. And I feel like that’s always helped me.
The next bit of advice is around communication. You know what I’ve always struggled with in life if I’m honest? Because I grew up in a male dominated household, I never knew how to argue or talk to women in a heated environment. Someone said some great advice, which is when you’re arguing with someone have a sip of water before you respond.
Don’t be so reactive. Help yourself process a thought. And back yourself.
Ben: My granddad instilled hard work in us which is good. He didn’t come from money but ended up becoming a very successful businessman. Proper typical Northerner. So hard work would be one.
There’s also something around not knowing what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes, so just try not to be judgmental—which is a hard thing to do, as naturally we are judgmental.
Reminds me of something my mum said the other day: ‘don’t be judgmental, be curious,’ and try ask why people do the things they do.
Ben: Yeah, especially in our line of work you have to be curious.
Adam: Ben gave me a brilliant piece of advice which is being able to listen. It’s some of the best advice I’ve been given, because I’ve always had that “my way or the highway” sort of personality, and am quite strong willed. But when you listen – especially when a young person is speaking – you realise how much of a skill being able to listen really is.
How do you deal with stress?
Ben: So I get worried about quite a lot about things, and get easily stressed about stuff. There’s a guy called Mo Gawdat [aka The Happiness Expert] who hosts a podcast called “The Moments That Made Me”. He basically says when you’ve got a problem, what you need to do is look at it first and ask ‘is it true?’ and if it’s not true then just f*cking forget about it. If it is true, then ask ‘can I change it?’ If you can’t do change it, then you have to f*ck it off as well. And it’s such a good thing!
Boxing, yoga and sport play a huge role with mitigating stress too… If you’re not working at the boxing club where can we find you?
Adam: Playing Top Trumps with my son.
Ben: Me doing one of my million hobbies!
What’s been your best TV show you’ve watched recently?
Ben: People will laugh if I say this! We just finished Good Girls.
Adam: I don’t really watch TV like that, but prefer a documentary about animals – sharks etc. I’m big into sharks and killer whales—predators. This office we’re in currently is called The Serengeti which is the biggest part of my bucket list!
What’s your favourite country you’ve visited?
Ben: Barbados, absolutely love it! Everything about it – food, culture, surfing, the beaches and the people.
Adam: Difficult one for me, I’d probably say Jamaica but America as well. And I love France. But, yeah, Jamaica!
On the topic of Barbados, you and some of the team visited at the end of 2022? Tell us about the trip.
Ben and Adam: We spent the week meeting ministers, community leaders and young people with the aim to build a better understanding of the current issues and how our programmes could be delivered within their systems. The trip ended with us meeting the Barbados Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley @mamottley. This was a proud moment for us and she gave us the opportunity to propose ideas for Gloves Not Gunz working in Barbados.
Stay posted with upcoming UYUK projects and follow UYUK on Instagram, here. Click here to learn more about Ben, and click here to read our latest Q&A with Adam. Stay posted with GNG news on Insta, here!
Words: Sarah-Claire Picton | Interview: Grace Watson | Community Day image by Bevin Sutherland