HARRY Dhami hopes his new boxing club will benefit underprivileged youngsters, and perhaps in the process also help the man himself.

Thirty-two-year-old Dhami, born and bred in Gravesend, effectively went into hibernation at the end of last year when he was forced to withdraw from the final eliminator for the British welterweight crown, citing "niggling injuries".

But the first-ever British boxing title-holder of Asian descent stopped short of announcing his retirement, and feels that watching youngsters sparring in his gym might re-ignite his passion for a sport he fell in love with 25 years ago.

Raised on an estate in Denton, a young Dhami witnessed at first-hand the potential dangers of falling into the wrong crowd.

And whilst it might be melodramatic to suggest boxing rescued him from a life of poverty and crime, there is little doubt the sport instilled into him some much-needed discipline.

Dhami, who now lives in Lordswood with his girlfriend, is hoping the club, which officially opens next Monday, will have a similar effect on young members of Gravesham's community, particularly those from ethnic backgrounds.

It will be based at the Elite Gym, in Milton Road, but as Dhami explains, whilst it may be elitist in name the club will not be so in nature.

He said: "I know what it's like on the streets kids today have too much time on their hands, and this often leads to trouble. But by opening up the club and giving them somewhere to go, we can channel their energy in a positive way.

"It would be great if the gym could one day produce a champion, but that's not really our aim. Our main goal is to forge a close link with the community, and allow me to give something back to the people who've supported me.

"I want everyone to feel welcome at the club, regardless of age, colour, sex or size. There won't be any room for prima donnas here. As long as people are prepared to train hard and behave themselves, our door will always be open."

Dhami, who cites Thomas "The Hitman" Hearns as an inspiration, intends to take a hands-on role, as he has invested a lot of time (two years) and money (several thousand pounds) into the project, and is determined to make it work.

He also realises, however, that without the help, input and support of many others, it may never have been possible to realise his dream, and to that end he has a long list of people to thank.

They include Chris Pond MP, Tom Munn and Patricia Jefford on the Gravesham Council planning and regeneration services team, Chris Metherell of the Kent sports development unit, and the Kent Community Foundation.

The club will be open between 4.30 and 9pm, Monday to Friday, and from 10.30am to 1pm on Sundays. The minimum age is ten.

There is no membership subscription fee, as the club will operate on a pay-as-you-train basis.