Ex-homeless martial arts expert fights back to set up thriving business and win award

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A martial arts instructor and owner of a thriving start-up enterprise teaching young people vital life skills launched his business from the streets of North Wales while destitute and homeless.

In a remarkable turn-around of his fortunes Gavin Eastham is now a role model for other struggling and vulnerable people and has just been presented with a top award from the North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner.

He was recognised in the Early Intervention – Education category of his Community Awards presented, during a ceremony at Theatr Clwyd, Mold, by Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones.

Mr Jones praised Gavin’s company, Cobra Life CIC, for its innovative Success for Life project designed to up-skill children and parents in dealing with problems and emergency situations in a way that avoids escalation and aggression.

The award is a huge boost for Gavin, 36, who drew up his business plan while destitute but spending time at Flint Library to research books on entrepreneurship.

He said: “To be honest I was in a mess. For a number of reasons and changes in my personal circumstances my life had crumbled.

“I’d suffered a back injury, was registered disabled, lost my job and finally lost my home. I ended up living on the streets, but as down as I was, I knew I had to somehow get myself back on my feet.

“It was the strangest existence – by night I’d focus my full attention on keeping warm and finding some sort of shelter while living homeless, but by day I’d head straight to the library to study business strategy.”

The tactic paid off and Gavin was eventually able to set up his martial arts academy, Cobra Life CIC, now headquartered in Shotton.

He said: “I’d had various jobs in the past but the only one I had any real qualifications in was martial arts. I’d previously run my own martial arts classes but this time I knew I wanted to do it differently. I wanted to do it in a way that really gave something back to the community which has supported me.

“I didn’t just want to create an assembly line of ‘terminators’ good at punching and kicking, but to focus on the philosophies at the root of accomplished martial arts like improving confidence, concentration and self-discipline. That’s how I came up with our Success for Life project.”

Gavin now works closely with local schools and youth organisations across the region and keeps parents regularly informed about pupils’ progress.

As well as teaching traditional martial arts techniques, the 3rd Dan karate and kickboxing expert also devotes key sessions to life-skills designed to help young people and adults who might find themselves in difficult or problematic situations.

He said: “For instance we’ve had fantastic feedback for our Emergency Situation Management programme which was born out of learning that not all emergency situations can be fixed by punching and kicking.

“We help young people learn about what to do if they get lost? What is 999? When do we use it? How do they recognise a safe stranger? We look at how to deal with bullies and how to avoid conflict at all costs.”

Cobra Life also runs adult programmes focusing on behaviours such as victim targeting and helping increase awareness of potential dangers or situations to avoid.

Since it launched with his first class in Connah’s Quay community centre in May last yar, Gavin has seen his business grow to 23 classes a week and attendance has more than tripled from 37 in March this year to 123 today.

He has moved back into permanent accommodation and, despite still being registered disabled, his fitness has improved enough for him to teach regular classes in a range of different marital arts.

He is proud that his classes are greeted with boundless enthusiasm by so many youngsters.

He said: “There’s one young lad, aged eight, who insists on shaking the hand of every instructor and saying thank-you before he leaves each class. It’s so nice but if anything it’s me who should be thanking him and all the others who take the time to join us.”

He urges anyone facing hard times to not give up hope but to seek help to find solutions to their crisis.

Gavin said: “It’s been a difficult struggle for me but I’ve had a lot of support from so many different sections of the community and I’m hugely grateful for that.

“It’s rewarding to be able to put something back into society and to win the North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner award is a real feather in our cap and shows we are going in the right direction.”

Commissioner Arfon Jones said: “This is an award for a group or organisation who have worked with young people to support them with community cohesion, integration and learning new skills. Cobra Life does just that through its Success for Life project.

“It helps reduce the risk of vulnerability on the streets and in turn gives valuable skills to help improve young people’s sense of citizenship as they grow.

“The overall social mission of Cobra Life is to improve lives in the local community and reduce the number of victims of crimes of aggression, which, of course, also helps our police. Such schemes can only help make our society safer and I’m thrilled to be able to present an award to such a forward-thinking enterprise.”