Few people meeting Andi Crossman would imagine he had once been a victim of bullying.

The head of Wigton Amateur Boxing Club, with experience in the sport stretching back to when he was eight, Andi will not strike many as a likely target for victimisation.

But at the age of 10 he was subjected to a campaign of abuse from 16 and 17-year-old boys that eventually put him in hospital.

The experience has left him with a lifelong hatred of bullying in all its forms.

“This bullying thing, it’s close to my heart,” Andi said. “I hate bullies, I absolutely detest them.”

Drawing on his childhood experiences and on what he has seen in the young people he coaches, Andi recently launched a campaign to reach out to anyone in the Wigton area who is a victim of bullying.

“I’ve had children who have come into the gym and you can see the timidness in them, you know that something is wrong,” Andi said.

“Some kids are confident when they come in here, some are shy.

“Instantly, if they’re quiet and shy, I make a beeline for them.

“If they don’t come out of their shyness in a couple of sessions, something is stopping them from coming out of their shell.”

His own experience with bullying was more physical than emotional, but he was quick to point out that physical abuse involves mental suffering too.

“If you’re getting physically bullied, you’re getting mentally bullied at the same time,” said Andi.

“Because it’s toying with your head, you’re always wondering when it’s going to happen next.”

The bullying would happen at the weekend, and continued until Andi was about 16.

“Once, two of them held me by a leg and an arm, dangling me off the upstairs balcony, threatening to throw me off, to throw me out of a first floor flat,” Andi said.

“They would beat me. They beat me so hard once they put me in hospital with a concussion.

“It led me into fear. I hated the weekend. It brought fear. It was torture, mentally and physically,” he said.

“When you knew the weekend was coming, that’s when it started. The anxiety, thinking ‘it’s gonna happen again’.”

Andi freely admits he eventually did not take the abuse lying down. But he sees his own experiences as a cautionary tale for anyone in a similar position.

“I always fought back,” Andi said. But being
outnumbered by older, stronger boys, his retaliation only prolonged the experience.

“This is why I don’t agree with fighting bullies back,” he said. “They overpowered me at 16, 17 years old. They looked forward to seeing me on the weekend.

“Violence isn’t the way to hurt bullies; I fought back and they hit harder.”

In Andi’s experience, both as a bully victim and as a boxing coach, the solution is to overcome the isolation that emerges around the subject of the abuse.

He added: “They go into a shell. Then they’re known as the quiet kid. So nobody bothers with them. It’s a vicious cycle.”

In the Wigton Amateur Boxing Club, Andi sees a simple but powerful solution to this sense of separation that bullying victims feel.

It begins with encouraging them to talk. For Andi, not talking to anyone is the biggest danger.

“That’s what leads to suicide or mental health issues,” he said.

“Because they’re bundling all that up inside, and they feel like they can’t talk to anyone.”

But Andi sees himself and his fellow coaches as well-placed to encourage young people to open up: “You can’t exactly pull up a bully and say ‘you have to stop this’ because they don’t think they’re bullying.”

Andi explained that the friendships made by the young people at his gym are the best weapon for combating bullying.

“I want to bring the confidence back to these children. I want them to know that they’re not alone,” he said.

It is this sense of community that the gym brings that for Andi is the real solution to bullying.

“Bullies are cowards. These are people who prey on the weak,” he said.

“When children come in here they’ve got 20 or 30 others the same age.

“They’ve got that community which acknowledges them. You’ve got the friendship of all the other boxers. You’ve got somewhere to go, you’ve got someone to talk to.”

A major 2018 report by the NSPCC contained startling statistics on the extent of bullying amongst young people in the country.

It concluded that two-thirds of 18 to 24-year-olds have experienced some form of emotional abuse, which includes bullying, at some point in their childhood.

Almost 60 per cent of young people aged between 11 and 17 have been victimised by a peer, which includes anything from bullying to assault.

And almost a third of 11 to 17-year-olds have experienced emotional abuse in the past year.

"The statistics of bullying in schools, it's actually disgraceful," Andi said.

"You can spot somebody who's being mentally tortured," he continued. "As a coach, I've got to be able to spot these signs.

"All our coaches have been on courses, we're trained to spot the signs."