Features co-editor Immy Higgins spoke to the Aggression Sessions Committee Exec about their charity work, training programme and plans for this year.
Set up originally in 2014 by a group of students who were inspired by the fight nights they had seen at other universities, Aggression Sessions has grown over the past 7 years into a hugely popular training programme that many Durham students participate in. The boxing event itself is a key part of the Durham University calendar and the exec remain hopeful that it can still happen this year, albeit at a later date than normal.
As stated by the exec, ‘the event was made to both raise money for some amazing charities, and to demonstrate boxing as a sport in a way that hadn’t been done within the university before.’ For the past 2 years the chosen charity has been ‘Papyrus’, a fantastic organisation that supports the prevention of young suicide. The fact that many find that boxing has significant mental health benefits makes the choice of this charity particularly apt, as well as fundamentally important. Suicide is the biggest killer of people aged under 35 and every year thousands more consider suicide, harm themselves and feel unable to share how they are feeling. The collaboration with ‘Papyrus’ has ‘reinvigorated’ Aggression Sessions, placing at its ‘core’ the need to raise awareness of mental health struggles amongst the student community.
The charity is even more relevant this year as the instability of the pandemic and the introduction of social restrictions contribute to young people’s mental struggles. The exec committee took a vote as to which charity to support for last academic year’s event and it was a ‘unanimous decision to stick with Papyrus.’ From the funds raised, Papyrus are now able to run their own helpline called Hopeline* which ‘advises anyone struggling or who knows anyone struggling how to cope with their mental health.’ As well as offering Hopeline as a resource, ‘Papyrus’ not only runs training programmes to equip local councils, school staff and healthcare professionals with suicide prevention skills, but also implements campaigns that seek to shape local, regional and national policy regarding mental health.
Covid-19 has affected student lives significantly, but the exec ‘plan to continue to go ahead with training and planning the event’ as much as they can. Training sessions will have a limit of 30 people but will run more regularly: every Monday from 8 to 9am and 9 to 10am, and every Friday at the same times. Although sparring practice is not likely to take place for a while due to government restrictions, 120 people will still be able to train once a week with boxing co-ordinators and participate in fitness and boxing technique classes; ‘think KOBOX boxing fitness, but in Durham, and cheaper, and a pandemic.’
Aggression Sessions training is a fantastic opportunity for Durham students. Described by the exec as ‘almost akin to freshers week’ in that ‘no one knows what they are doing in the beginning and everyone’s in it together’, the training is a great chance to learn a new skill, get fit, meet new people and fight in a professional environment. Being trained by some of the best boxers in the University and one of the best coaches in the North East allows sign-ups to get the most out of the opportunity.
The process to get involved is simple. After following Aggression Sessions on facebook and being added to the training group, sign-ups attend training sessions and, if they stick with it, are asked to pay a subscription so that the exec can rent training space, pay coaches and organise the main event. After a term of training the coaches select fighters for the night. Decisions are made on the basis of assessing who has shown the most skill and improvement, as well as if there is an opponent of suitable weight for the boxer to be paired against.
The training programme becomes more rigorous for the selected fighters, but the exec reassure that it is ‘very manageable.’ Although initially fitting the training into university life can be a ‘shock to the system’, the fighters quickly ‘adapt to it’ and the ‘structure and routine becomes comforting in a way.’ The exec recommends ‘getting enough rest’ as fighters often feel ‘more tired than usual’ due to the early starts.
Physical exercise is a method that many find improves their mental health and Aggression Session’s training programme itself demonstrates that ‘sport can be a life changing outlet.’ The exec assured that they have ‘some very exciting things lined up that will get more of the student community involved than ever even if the event must take place on a smaller scale’ so ‘watch this space.’ Another way to get involved is to audition to be a ring girl or ring boy. Auditions are held closer to the event, and a vote is taken amongst the exec to decide who is chosen.
If you are interested in getting involved, the exec have 3 main pieces of advice for now. Sign up, improve your fitness levels and get involved with the charity as an individual. The exec referred to Rocky, the title-star of the rags to riches American film about an Italian-American boxer. Rocky states that ‘every fighter was once a contender that refused to give up’; Aggression Sessions requires resilience and fortitude, qualities that students need now more than ever. Pubs may close at 10, and mixing households may be illegal, but we still have this popular and prestigious programme and event to get involved with.
*Papyrus’ Hopeline – Call 0800 068 4141 or Text 07860039967 or email firstname.lastname@example.org (opening hours are 9am to 10pm weekdays, 2pm to 10pm weekends and 2pm to 10pm bank holidays).
Image: Aggression Sessions