Bethnal Green martial arts gym launches fundraiser to expand outreach

Catherine Denby, KO

Founder and director of KO Community Projects, Catherine Denby. - Credit: Pol Allingham

A martial arts gym in Bethnal Green is hoping to raise £20,000 to expand into a third railway arch to house a new centre for its community projects.

KO Combat Academy, a martial arts gym in the Bethnal Green railway arches, is looking for the money in order to support the launch of KO Community Projects.

KO Combat Academy

KO Combat Academy in Bethnal Green - Credit: Pol Allingham

This initiative would see more mixed martial arts (MMA), wrestling, jiu jitsu and strength and conditioning training offered in its community outreach programmes.

It would be housed in a new community centre, for which it has already secured £20,000 funding from Investec Beyond Business, and would have an office to expand its outreach.

Founder and director of KO Community Projects, Catherine Denby, 25, said: “Once we get the hub it’s going to be massive.

“More people will come on board, bringing more skills.

“Community is a huge part of your identity, a fitness community and a grassroots community that you’re comfortable with hugely benefits your mental health.”

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Catherine has also kicked started KO Combat's youth campaign to offer free muay Thai, MMA and boxing lessons to 12 to 16-year-olds in Tower Hamlets by emailing all the local schools within a five-mile radius. 

She said: “We want to foster an environment that’s inclusive, that’s teaching skills, discipline, and getting kids off the streets. The kids that come are not privileged.”

Youth boxing is taught by Fayek Uddin and Aaron Bacon, who both have lived experience, coming from similar backgrounds to the pupils.

KO Combat Academy in Bethnal Green. 

KO Combat Academy in Bethnal Green. - Credit: Pol Allingham

KO also works with recovery groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) - with some members invited to train yoga, muay Thai, kickboxing and general fitness in the Saturday Fitness Wellbeing and Recovery class.

Tilly Francis, KO’s social media manager, and Billy Hesketh, a coach, both work in outreach and bringing new members in.

KO Community Projects’ most popular session is Saturday’s LGBTQIA+ class, and Catherine, who runs the workout, is part of the community.

She said: “At the gym we’re not just coaches, we're mentors in a sense.”

The team is trying to encourage more young girls to join too, including pre-schoolers.

View KO Combat's fundraiser at