Lily Priggs is co-owner and co-founder of the gym Port O’Leith Boxing, in Edinburgh. Alongside her partner John they run a hub of fitness, boxing enthusiasm and community.

When I spoke with Lily I saw her passion for the power of boxing and energy for it to be seen as a sport that brings positive impact both in and out of the ring: “I started kickboxing at university in 2004, I competed for my university and went to Thailand a few times where I competed in Thai Boxing. When I met John, I stuck with boxing as it was easier to find fights. I love the sport but it’s tough when you want it to be. It gives you a buzz like no other.”

In focussing her energy on boxing, Lily was drawn to the adaptability of the sport: “All the drills that you’d use for a world-class boxer can be modified to suit anyone – it just takes a conversation about a person’s condition, creativity and good boxing knowledge.” It seems that is what is at the heart of the club for Lily. The idea is that Port O’Leith can be somewhere that grows relationships and allows people to have a conversation about their health and conditioning goals no matter their skill level when they start at the club. 

Port O’Leith Boxing Club is a place where you can leave your preconceived assumptions about boxing behind. It is a place that values inclusion, accessibility and respect, catering for those who want to compete and those who never wish to engage in the “fighting” element of the sport: “John and I are sociable people, and we love teaching people how to box – so having a place where anyone can walk in, and the staff can move boxing away from its traditional old school routes enriches the club for us.”

She explained how Port O’Leith Boxing is a nurturing environment for women socially and allows connections and relationships to flourish. Nobody enters the gym with ‘ego’ and sparring is by no means a necessity to involvement. Most people who use the gym will never compete in a fight: “It’s inclusive and accessible for people who want to compete too. Competing is not safe for everyone because there is an element of risk. But providing someone who is fit and healthy enough, and can defend themselves and trains hard, we’ll take good care in finding them a suitable match – we don’t exclude because of age.”

Lily also challenges the notions that often see boxing branded as aggressive. For people who say boxing is not for them, Lily provides a different perspective: “Often people avoid boxing claiming it is ‘aggressive’ but like I said – you have to be in control in boxing – it’s often compared to dancing. Of course, punching in itself is a good outlet and it’s easy to escape from the outside world by getting caught up in the intensity of footwork and combinations. But I think people are sometimes misguided in thinking boxing is the answer after a stressful day but the beauty is in being in control.”

Lily has spearheaded a range of engaging and important programmes that put women and women’s issues at the fore: “Our talk series complements training too, to date we’ve had ‘Understanding the Menopause’ and ‘Exercise and Nutrition around the Menstrual Cycle’ sessions . The focus of reaching women going through the menopause has also led to the successful introduction of ‘Hot Flushes Sharp Punches’ programme,

“It’s a time in women’s lives when they may be caring for parents, kids are teenagers or leaving home, work commitments are at a peak as well as dealing with menopausal symptoms which can be very challenging. The ‘Hot Flushes Sharp Punches’ Programme offers two sessions at practical times, after work and before kid’s bedtimes where women can train together, box together and connect.”

Lily is not resting on her laurels, in fact she is as ambitious as ever to grow female participation through Port O’Leith Boxing: “I want to engage more women, work with more charities that support women – running a women’s only drop-in session for these charities. I want to engage more young girls and get more women sparring and fighting. Our eldest Member is 82 and comes along to the Old Age Punchers Sessions. I’d love to see that grow too. The Postnatal Punchers programme had to take a backseat over the last year as I was a little preoccupied with two kids under three, but I’m desperate to build that again.”

There is a real complementary nature to the impact that boxing can have on women’s lives. Lily is keen to promote the idea that whatever part of your life you want boxing to impact, you can adapt your involvement in the sport to support your own personal goals. There are obvious health benefits, alongside an ability for the sport to facilitate that competitive edge that may bring something new to your life.

“First and foremost, it’s a sport that works the whole body, complemented by our strength training which is a very important part of women’s training. As women age their bone density decreases quite rapidly, so strength training is important to reduce the risk of osteoporosis,

“Secondly, it’s a place where women can connect with both men and women, you’ll find very few egos walk through our doors – I don’t know why that’s the case, but the men respect the women and the women respect the men and work together well. Thirdly, it’s a sport where you can see progression in your skill level and that only brings good things to a person. We offer sparring too, which is well structured and supports people gently into full sparring. Sparring does carry a risk, but the women who do it feel elated after and keep coming back. It’s a feeling like no other and often gives women (and men) the confidence to challenge themselves outside the ring.”

I don’t know what springs to mind when you hear about boxing or when it pops up in the news, but for me now, I’ll think of Lily and Port O’Leith Boxing. I’ll think about the good it is doing – not just for women but for the wider community it is part of – with its initiatives such as ‘Punching with Parkinson’s’, ‘Old Age Punchers’ and ‘Postnatal Punchers’, as well as just being a generally welcoming environment to explore your fitness goals.

And, being an Edinburgh local, maybe I’ll think about pulling on some gloves and heading off to Leith to experience some of the wonderful benefits of boxing that Lily has promised!

You can find out more about Port O’ Leith Boxing through their social media or their website, for more information about classes and getting involved. If you aren’t Edinburgh based then you can find your local club via sportscotland or Boxing Scotland – Governing body for the sport of Olympic Boxing in Scotland – Boxing Scotland

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