With coastal roots in Devon, South West England and currently based in Croydon, London, Ben Eckett is Urban Yogis UK Director and the Co-Founder and Director of Gloves Not Gunz, which uses sport and education to divert young people from crime and exploitation. Qualifying as 300hrRYT in 2018, Ben is passionate about making Yoga accessible to all and teaching the true roots of yoga to help support and develop communities.
But beyond the titles and accolades (of which he has many!), Ben’s the kind of guy you want to be standing in a long queue with. He’s down to earth, super sincere, has wicked taste in music, and genuinely has others’ best interests at heart.
Working with earnest passion, Ben’s skill-set blends his deep appreciation and love of sport (surfing, gym and martial arts!) with many years teaching and practicing yoga. He also has over 17 years of experience working in social care, youth offending, youth work and education.
Supplementing the work he does helping marginalised young people is a BA Hons Degree in Social Pedagogy (Youth & Community Development) and REPS Level 3 Personal Training qualification, and Level 3 ‘Place2Be’ counselling.
A mentor to many – both in the local Croydon community, nationally and abroad – his work with young people is as relevant as it is inspiring. Join us as we sat down to chat about his journey into working with young people and his own background…
Let’s talk a bit about your journey working with young people? Where did it all begin…?
After school I had a youth team contract with Exeter City football club academy, playing football and then studying at Exeter College at the same time. But I hated it. I loved football but I didn’t like the seriousness of it. So, I finished college and got a job in a factory with some mates, saved up some money and went to Australia for a year.
When I came back, I had no idea what I was going to do. A mate of mine was a youth worker at YMCA, a youth centre in Paignton, and he got me a job in football coaching at a local estate in Paignton. I really loved it! The manager of the youth centre offered me a trainee role, so I trained as a youth worker alongside my job there for the next three years.
What else was going on in your life at this time?
While training as a youth worker, me and my mate set up our own little charity called Y-Surf.
What inspired you guys to set up Y-Surf?
There’s a really socially deprived area in Paignton, and there were kids on that estate that had never been to the beach even though was around three or four miles from them.
It was all about teaching kids in the local area to surf who hadn’t been able to afford it.
I really enjoyed running the charity, but then government cuts came in and all the money came out of youth centres. It was such a shame when the Government cuts came in and the money was pulled from youth centres as I had such a great time running the charity.
What came next after Y-Surf?
I decided to move to London and worked in education for the first eight years or so of living here. I worked in people referral units in schools, mentoring young people, while also doing a bit of personal training on the side to earn some extra money…London’s an expensive place to live!
What spurred the shift away from education after nearly a decade in the industry?
I left education as I found it quite difficult to impact young people’s lives when you can only work with them in that setting.
I felt I needed to work with them in their home environment and in the community to make an impact.
So, I started working within a few different local authorities.
The first bit was doing family work and more key work, and then went down the route of doing work with gangs [starting off] as a crime and antisocial behaviour practitioner in Hammersmith and Fulham.
I really enjoyed the work with young people involved in those type of issues which spurred me on to do a degree (in youth work) as I hadn’t really done that well in school.
How did you meet your business partner and long-time buddy, Adam?
I’d done a bit of boxing in the past, never competing though. For a while, when I lived up around here, I used to go to the Fight Factory. I came across Adam’s Instagram for Croydon Boxing Club where I saw he had started this initiative called Gloves Not Gunz.
Me and Adam met, and I told him about what I was doing, and, essentially from that moment on we started to develop the partnership into what it is today.
With the organisation celebrating its sixth year in 2023, can you reflect back to why you got into this work?
I had quite a lot going on when I was young and I didn’t feel like there was much support for me and for a lot of my mates either.
In the beginning, aged 19, I was just doing work because I didn’t know what else to do. But as I got older, I reflected more and realised the experiences from when I was younger were part of my passion for doing the work I do.
Stay posted for our upcoming joint Q&A with Ben and Adam, where we ask who their favourite role models are, what they’ve learned in the past six years and advice for young people struggling at the moment.
For more blogs and news, click here, and to Follow Ben on Insta, click here. Stay posted with the latest happening at Gloves Not Gunz UK by following us on Insta, here.
words: Sarah-Claire Picton | interview: Grace Watson