The Learn Play Grow story – making a real difference


Sport, health and fitness can be a great release for people of all ages –  and in some cases it can even be a life saver. I’ve been watching the Anthony Joshua story, and his is a perfect example of how sport saved him from a life of criminality.

I actually worked with England Boxing for two years, at Crystal Palace and Manchester EIS World Class Centres, and I witnessed and experienced first-hand how boxing helped many children from deprived areas who’d had tough lives.

Anthony Joshua
Anthony Joshua
Nino with England boxing team
Nino with the England Boxing Team – Amir Khan is on the right.

Unfortunately, Elena and I experienced how tough life could be for some young children, and these experiences gave us a huge motivation to develop a programme that would in some shape way or form help young children.

One of the mums who had a child at the foundation called me one day to say that she was finding it very tough and couldn’t bring her daughter to sessions anymore. I tried to convince her to try her best, but she said it was too much.

I remember that they both used to ride their bikes to the club, which was on the other side of Ipswich to them. It must have been a 60-minute round trip, the little girl was only seven years old, and they did this twice a week. I told Elena, and her immediate reaction was to say, “I need to go and see them Nin.”

I remember it like it was yesterday, we were both having dinner, sitting in our lounge, Elena said, “Ring them now Nin” and within 20 minutes we were on the road to their house. What we experienced next brought both Elena and I to tears. The little girl was from a broken family, being brought up by her mother, her father was a drug addict, and she had a lot to put up with. When we entered the house, we could not believe what we were seeing. Their standard of living was shocking, there was hardly any furniture and what there was, looked like it was 20 years old.

Pride of place

The one thing Bally and I couldn’t miss was that pride of place up on the living room wall was a picture that the mother had taken of Elena with her daughter, and a medal and certificate that Elena had presented her with at one of their sessions. The mother was so moved that Elena had made time for them, she carried on with the sessions and her daughter went on to compete as a British junior tennis player and took part in many tournaments.

Bally taking her Foundation girls out to the park

It was experiences like this that drove Elena to give everything she could to her foundation and ultimately what made us really want to get the Learn Play Grow programme right, so it could genuinely make a difference.



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