Fifteen years after retiring from a successful career as a professional boxer James Cook MBE still pulls no punches.
The former European Super Middleweight champion is now the figurehead of The Pedro Club – a thriving centre for young people on Rushmore Road, which caters for those interested in everything from boxing to gentler disciplines such as singing, dancing, and creating fashion and art. James works as an outreach worker for Rathbone, a national voluntary youth organisation. He has helped over 500 young people into full-time work since 2000, and received nationwide attention for his work encouraging young people to embrace a positive lifestyle.
He said: “All I ask is that when they enter the club they follow the rules and show some respect. I want to teach them that they can’t win everything – losing is part of the learning process. After that, if you give me an hour, I figure I can get the kid with the biggest scowl smiling.”
Working with young people wasn’t a new experience. He had already spent more than a decade doing so before retiring from boxing.
James has been a Hackney resident for 27 years, and lives here with his wife, three daughters and son. He believes in giving back to the community.
“Whatever your field, it’s only right you go back and show people that if I can do it, so can you,” he said.
His favourite part of the borough? “Apart from the Pedro, it has to be Hackney Downs. I’ve always gone there to train and it’s the kind of place where you can just run, and do your thing. It’s a great open space,” he explained.
The Pedro Club was established in 1929, and revived in the 1960s, thanks to a donation from Hollywood film star Elizabeth Taylor, who remains a patron today.
Around the turn of the millennium, James set out to revitalise it after another period of decline, and the club re-opened in 2003.
In 2006, he returned to the public eye in the Channel 4 show ‘Secret Millionaire’. The club received a much-needed £20,000 boost to build a music studio.
If it receives enough public votes between 23 and 27 November, it will win up to £50,000 in People’s Millions Lottery Fund cash to set up a choir and orchestra.
James was awarded an MBE for services to Youth Justice in Hackney in June 2007. “Talking to the Queen was one of the only times I got nervous!” joked the man who has faced down boxing greats such as Errol Christie, Michael Watson and Herol Graham. “I even offered her one of my vests,” he laughed.
Before speaking to Hackney Today, James had spent the early morning training one of his stable of boxers. By the end of our interview, the first young people were banging on the door to use the facilities.
He muses: “Twenty years ago, it was difficult to get to Hackney – there was only one bus from where I lived. It always seemed so dark. Now, the place has changed so much. It’s light, bright and really easy to get around.”
- 1959 Born in Jamaica
- 1982 Won professional debut
- 1990 Won British Super Middleweight title
- 1991 Won European Super Middleweight title
- 1994 Retired from boxing
- 2003 Re-opened The Pedro Club
- 2006 Appeared on Channel 4’s Secret Millionaire
- 2007 MBE for services to Youth Justice in Hackney
For more details or to donate visit: www.pedroclub.com
To vote visit: www.peoplesmillions.org.uk
Page updated: 15 Jun 2010