LABOUR’S Tees Valley candidate running for mayor visited a shopping precinct in decline to announce a £1.5 million innovation fund.

Jessie Joe Jacobs pulled on some boxing gloves and had a tour of Billingham Boxing Club – known locally as Fighting Chance Billingham Boxing Club.

The boxing club, based in West Precinct in the town, opened its doors in June last year and has been a success ever since – despite the rest of the precinct being almost derelict.

Adrian Worth, who set up the club, said: “We took the name fighting chance because that was the ethos behind what we were doing. We wanted to give people a fighting chance at life.”

Ms Jacobs chose the boxing club as a prime example of what thriving businesses could be in the precinct and on other high streets in the area which are in decline.

She said: “If we’re going to see Teesside and the Tees Valley transformed we have to see our town centres transformed.

"No longer should they be a symbol of decline. Instead they need to be a symbol of Tees Valley rising and I am committed to see our high streets regenerated.

"I’ve spent the last ten years working within and learning about places all across the UK and Europe about how town centres can be revived and I’m announcing today a £1.5 million innovation fund which we will give to communities, innovators, entrepreneurs and small business owners who have a vision and an idea for the high street, an easy access fund to get all of those shops used again.

“I wanted to come here today because I am about to launch my high street and town centre innovation fund and for me this place represents – when you turn up here it looks like a really under-used shopping centre and then you walk in a and see this [the boxing club] place in action.

"You’ve got young people, vibrance, something happening and this is exactly what we need to be thinking about with town centres.

"Repurposing these empty spaces and filling them with new life for learning, leisure and living. So I’m really excited to be here.”

The boxing club provides a training space for young people, as well as providing younger people a way into the sport – and creating a safe, welcoming place for youngsters to come, work out train and have fun.

Ms Jacobs added: “We’ve got hundreds of empty units all across the Tees Valley. Wouldn’t it be brilliant if they were here at Billingham Boxing Club, which is a small business owner which has turned this empty shop into a community centre boxing club which has been used by hundreds.

"Wouldn’t it be amazing if we saw things like this all across our high streets and town centres. It’s criminal that we’ve got those spaces empty where we’ve got innovators, community leaders and small business owners who are desperate for space.

" Let’s match empty space with those ideas, let’s see our town centres thrive.”