Feature: Why Leamington Community Boxing Club's unsung hero Babs is up for a BBC Sports award

Babs Kandola (centre with black tracksuit and glasses) stands with members and others involved with Leamington Community Boxing Club at the club's new gym.
Babs Kandola (centre with black tracksuit and glasses) stands with members and others involved with Leamington Community Boxing Club at the club's new gym.

"I'm happy", Babs Kandola tells me as he shows me around the newly-opened boxing gym where he volunteers as the head coach.

Babs, 58, whose real name is Harvinder, is the driving force behind Leamington Community Boxing Club which has recently found a home at De Luca House on the grounds of the The Gurdwara Sahib Sikh Temple in Tachbrook Park Drive.

He spoke to me on the day the BBC came down to interview him at the club as one of three of those shortlisted for the regional category of the channel's Sports Unsung Hero Award.

He has since been announced as the winner of the category and will now attend the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year Award ceremony in Aberdeen on December 15 where he could win the Unsung Hero 2019 award.

A group of Babs' young students - some of whom have special needs, learning difficulties and disabilities - and some of the teenage female volunteer coaches at the club were at the gym to congratulate him on the nomination.

And he was humble in receiving the recognition, which they know he deserves.

Babs, who works as a gym instructor, coach and in supported learning for the Warwickshire College Group, said: "I love it down here.

"It's nice having nice people around you and there's good energy levels in the place.

"The community paid for this, I had a builder friend of mine come in and do the floor and another do the electrics and all the cleaning up and other horrible work was done by others - they have done all this.

"It's a great story."

Babs' first sporting love was football and he founded Khalsa's first junior team in the 1970s.

A coach at Fitzpatrick's Boxing Club, which is also based in the grounds of the temple, Babs wanted to allow more children and teenagers to learn the sport rather than having to turn them away.

So he set up the community boxing club to offer the basics and fitness side of the sport to those who might not want to eventually box competitively.

The new gym - fitted out with heavy bags and a ring along with other equipment and facilities - opened at the beginning of October and is now going from strength to strength.

It is also serving as a feeder to provide Fitzpatrick's with young boxers who show potential.

Babs said: "Everybody in here is equal because we're all doing the same thing and we all need each other.

"Boxing really gives people confidence - I had a girl come in who was timid and just wanted to curl up into a ball.

"She came in two foot tall and walked out ten-foot tall - she never knew what she was capable of doing."

Babs described the feeling of being put forward for the BBC award as "strange".

He said: "I'll tell you the truth - I really appreciate everybody doing this because they have put so much hard work and time into it.

"I'm pleased for these guys as well though because they deserve the recognition and they should get something too."

Junior member Joseph McNab, 17, was full of praise for Babs.

He said: "He's as fit as a fiddle.

"He has given me such confidence and I feel strong."

Several of the teenage club members, including 16-year-old Phoebe Wells, are qualified coaches and work on a rota to take classes.

She said: "It's not known to enough people about how much people like Babs and other coaches in this area do.

"It's really important that they are noticed and he deserves it.

"To see this all come together and for the BBC to come down and report on it is amazing."

Babs is planning to take a group of young people from the club to India in 2021 so they can coach boxing in schools there.

He said: "It would be something some of them might never get to do otherwise.

"It'll be paid for but I've told them that they'll have to coach over here and work hard for it."

Those who attend classes at Leamington Community Boxing Club make a £5 contribution each time and this goes into a fund to ensure members who may not be able to pay every time can still train.

Equipment, such as gloves, is provided .

To find out more about the club, which offers classes for ages five and upwards including adults, email hkandola@warkscol.ac.uk