'I thought I'd be in prison, not meeting The Queen'
Laura Routledge • Published 30 Jun 2012 08:00
A FORMER gang member who has turned his life around described the immense pride he felt when his inspirational story caught the attention of The Queen.
Wearing a suit for the first time, Chad Cox nervously stood in line as Her Majesty greeted guests at The Three Counties Garden Party at Henley Business School on Monday.
But as The Queen went to walk past the 22-year-old she was being told how he has turned his back on a life of crime to mentor troubled youngsters, and promptly stopped to shake his hand.
Chad, who lives in Whitley, said: "It was mind blowing. It was so good but I was proper nervous. It's probably the first time I've been nervous in my life.
"First the Duke of Edinburgh walked past and then when the Queen came along, she shook my hand and asked me what I do. It was incredible.
"I am used to people crossing the road when they see me because I wear a hoody and look a certain way, so to have this happen was just amazing."
Chad was a guest of Berkshire Community Foundation because of his involvement with Creativity in Sport - a charity set up by TV fitness presenter Lizzie Webb and Olympic rower Debbie Flood to give challenging and disadvantaged young people a second chance in life.
As a troubled teenager Chad dropped out of Ryeish Green School in Spencers Wood when he was 14 and became part of a gang.
He said: "We would groom other young people by buying them things or saying they could hang around with us, so that they owed us.
"Then we would get them to do burglaries for us and steal cars, so it would be them getting in trouble if they got caught.
"It meant that once you were in the gang you were trapped - we all were."
When he was 16-years-old he moved to a shared house in an area of Whitley's Basingstoke Road known locally as 'Beirut'.
Chad said: "It was horrible. Doors were kicked off their hinges, there was constant fighting and people were on crack.
"Others would just go missing and you knew they were either in prison or they'd snitched on someone and they'd been taken away.
"It didn't faze me, I was used to it and I didn't know how to get out of the gang."
He met girlfriend, Tracey, then 26, when he was 18 and when she became pregnant with their son Kyeron, who is now four, he decided things had to change.
Chad said: "When Tracey gave birth it was the first time I'd cried in all my life. I knew straight away I wanted things to be better.
"So many people round my estate don't have a father figure and I didn't want that for my son. I wanted to protect him, keep him safe and be there for him to look up to."
Chad and Tracey now also have a daughter, Shania, who is two, and they live in Whitley together with Tracey's four other children.
In November last year he was put in touch with Creativity in Sport by a Job Centre Plus scheme for people not in education, employment or training.
He is now a qualified fitness instructor, who mentors youngsters on the verge of expulsion, as part of the charity's fitness programme, Body Rocks.
He organises twice-weekly football games in Whitley and hosts fitness classes for elderly residents in Tilehurst and business staff at IQ Winnersh.
Chad added: "A year ago I hadn't even seen The Queen on TV, and now I've shaken her hand and spoken to her.
"Whereas I would probably be in prison now, if I hadn't changed.
"If anyone is thinking about joining a gang, don't do it - keep on walking. You do have a choice and there is always a way out."
Visit www.creativityinsport.com for more information about the charity.
This article appeared in Local Berkshire 30 Jun 12