Since winning series 17 of the Apprentice, Marnie Swindells has made it her mission to transcend class and gender barriers in boxing.
Within a month of the finale, where she secured a £250,000 investment from Lord Sugar, her Camberwell-based gym, Bronx Boxing Club, attracted a significantly higher number of female members than male.
This is a reflection of the warm environment at Bronx, as with greater strides towards parity in boxing, the gym has contributed to a recent increase in women’s participation by providing more than just a training space.
Marnie said: “The first thing you see when you come down the stairs is not a big beef-cake guy, it is someone with a smile on their face.
“I have had to fight the misconception that boxing is all about aggression, which has brought more women through the doors.”
Issues surrounding inclusivity and discrimination are frequently discussed by people in boxing, but rarely do they commit to a level of engagement that is required.
As a result, the sport has struggled to gain a wider appeal at a grassroots level because, mostly due to a lack of funding, amateur gyms have remained relatively stagnant in their development.
However, Marnie goes beyond coaching at her gym. She believes that the social aspect is what will bring more people to boxing, and with an upstairs expansion in the framework for January of next year, Bronx will deliver a communal space, in the form of a café, where people can interact away from the grunts and thuds.
“The slogan for Bronx is ‘beyond boxing’, because it is about so much more than just the sport,” Marnie explained.
“It was through being involved in boxing that I was able to meet a lawyer who gave me the opportunity to shadow her. Being from my background, I never would have been able to get into law had I not met that person in the gym.”
There is certainly scope for life-changing opportunities in boxing which, despite certain misconceptions, is a sport that can bring people of all backgrounds together.
Aside from Marnie’s route into a legal career, offering a great example of what just a conversation in a gym can lead to, boxing has a track record of mobilising the younger generation.
So, whilst having the characteristics of a commercial gym with its pristine punch-bags and flashy branding, Bronx, like other inner city gyms, upholds a responsibility to support the youth.
“We aim to be as accessible as possible, and have been able to achieve that through our price-point,” Marnie added.
“With regards to our facilities, we offer the same standard as other gyms that often charge over £100 a month.
“At £6 per session for juniors, the gym is accessible to kids from all backgrounds.”
There is still a stigma that exists around boxing, though, which is preventing it from thriving in the same way as other sports.
“A lot of parents are sceptical about sending their kids to a boxing gym because they think that it is just about fighting,” Marnie said.
“I want to use my platform to let people know that these clubs are families.
“Boxing could have the same mass-appeal that football has if it was better funded. It is a very honourable and respectable sport that I think everyone can benefit from.”
As well as being a level 2 coach, Marnie previously promoted unlicenced boxing events for a number of years. Now, she aims to enter the world of professional boxing, utilising her experience as a promoter to benefit the fighters.
“I dabbled in white-collar boxing initially, but when Covid hit I had to refund around 800 tickets for a show,” she revealed.
“So I wanted something more tangible in the form of a gym, and now that I have that, it seems like a natural progression to make my way back into events.”
In a sport where profile often trumps talent, it is important for fighters to get their names out there – primarily by posting on social media.
But in order for them to reach out to a greater audience, they need to be given the right platform to showcase their skills which will, in turn, lead to more ticket sales.
“I believe that I can be a guiding presence to up-and-coming boxers who are unable to navigate the business-side of boxing,” Marnie continued.
“A lot of promoters are taking their job far too lightly. They need to help build the fighters, as opposed to just hiring the venue.
“I will openly say that a lot of them [promoters], at a grassroots level, are doing a complete disservice to their boxers.”
It is true that, when you enter Bronx for the first time, there is a family, rather than just a group of individuals striking the pads, that makes the gym tick week-in-week-out.
Rachael, who started at Bronx just a few weeks after it opened, discovered the gym without any knowledge of the Apprentice.
She said: “Self-motivated exercise is tough, so I prefer group sessions. As a woman, boxing makes me feel empowered.
“Marnie had a really clear vision of what she wanted Bronx to be, and that is reflected by the style of coaching which caters to people of all ability levels. Her personality flows through the gym.”
Having already made a huge difference to just a small community in South London, perhaps Marnie will now be able to impact the sport on a much larger scale; as her decision to go down the promotional route is not based on any financial rewards but, rather, a desire to bring boxing to the forefront of people’s minds by improving its image.