Max Wallace talks to workingwise.co.uk about his career ups and downs and how he is starting again with a new fitness and wellbeing business, aided by the Start-up School for Seniors.
Max Wallace has, like many, had a life of many ups and downs, of loss and new beginnings, but the losses and the struggles have made him all the more aware of the importance of helping others and that in helping others he also helps himself.
In the last two years he has started a new wellbeing and fitness business and he hopes that this can help to rebuild people’s spirits and health after the pandemic.
Job-wise, Max has lived several lives in the space of a few decades, moving from boxing to the fashion industry to community work to wellbeing. He put his drawing skills to good use in the 1990s, for instance, setting up a leather garments shop on new Shepherd’s Bush market where he designed leather items for customers. These included a replica jean jacket in leather for one of the Gladiators with a rhino embroidered on the chest and a leather jacket for Chelsea footballer Eddie Newton. In 1999, after three years, however, Max’s shop was moved and his rent was put up so he had to find other work.
Max then took a job as a driver and did a mentoring course. At the time he was teaching kickboxing in a local community centre. A job came up as facilities manager at the centre. The centre managers knew that Max was well liked and a good worker. He was offered the job and found himself on the frontline, with an overview of everything that went on at the centre. “I loved it,” he says. “It gave me experience of knowing the community. There were people from all walks of life there. All nationalities.” He says it was a morale boost to feel he was making a difference, however small, to people’s lives. He stayed in the job for 16 years and continued to do his kickboxing classes on the side.
Over the years Max has gathered some amazing testimonials from young people who he has taught. Adam Attia, one of his ex-students who he started teaching when he was nine, is now a boxing coach in the US. He told Max that his career path was determined by the classes he attended as a child, the way May trained and broke things down and that that has influenced him both as a coach and as a person. “He said he had never met a person like me,” says Max with pride. Adam’s letter says: “The diligence, integrity, commitment and passion that has allowed me to come this far was instilled into me by Max during my time with him as a youth…He is a mentor, a teacher, a coach and, most important of all, a friend.”
Max recently met up with another of his students. Nilesh Pandit was with his wife when he spotted Max in the street. Max had taught him kickboxing for 13 years. He rushed up and hugged Max like a long-lost relative. Nilesh’s wife smiled and said she was delighted to meet the person her husband had been talking about for so long. The next day Nilesh rang Max. Max had been crowdfunding for his new business, but he was well below his target figure. Nilesh said he could make up the money. He told Max that the impact he had had on him was huge, not just in terms of kickboxing, but also in terms of Nilesh’s mental health. “You don’t realise what you did,” he said. Max said thank-you and asked if there was anything he could do for Nilesh. “Just create another Nilesh,” said Nilesh, who runs Playfiveaside, an organisation that builds football pitches for inner city schools in waste areas. Schools don’t have to pay anything; the model works by the pitches being rented out outside school hours.
Max understands from first hand experience the importance of physical health for mental wellbeing and confidence because it has helped him throughout his life. At 21 his daughter Sherise died of meningitis. Max, who had done amateur boxing as a teenager, took it up again and found it helped him with all the emotions he was experiencing as a result of his grief. He became a professional boxer and then coach and says helping others through boxing has also helped him both mentally and physically. In 2013 he had a stomach bug, but kept going to work despite the pain. He ended up in hospital with an exploded appendix and gangrene. The doctors said he owed his life to his fitness: his stomach muscles had contained the explosion.
Max also says he has benefited from helping others through his work with the community. For instance, the community centre he worked at was linked with a centre near the Grenfell Tower. As Max was walking to work on 14th June 2017, he saw the flames coming from Grenfell Tower and headed for the partner centre. There was hardly anyone there. He was told to go back to his centre, but his instinct told him to stay. Within less than half an hour people started arriving with clothes and food for the victims of the fire. Max stayed the whole day and his centre subsequently put on several events to help survivors.
Max was made redundant from his job at the community centre several months later, having been off sick as a result of stress due to office politics. He received a letter just before Christmas 2019 terminating his employment and that threw him into a dark place. He realised, however, that he could not stay there because other people needed him. He found the Start-up School for Seniors, which he calls “a godsend” that has “catapulted” him to where he is today. He cannot praise the organisation’s co-founders, Suzanne Noble and Mark Elliott enough. “I cannot even put it into words,” he says. “If you are in a dark place you cannot listen or speak. It’s like you are in a box. I couldn’t even speak properly without getting emotional. Suzanne and Mark, along with my wife, family and friends, centred me.”
Max got support – and continues to get support – before and throughout the Covid pandemic, having started his company, Health Defence CIC, in March 2020. Two weeks later everything had closed down, with fitness work particularly affected. Max says that he was not as phased by the Covid uncertainty due to having just come through the upheaval of redundancy, but the lockdowns meant he had to be creative. He had to temporarily move his classes to park settings in the open air, for instance. He says the people he has met through the Start-up School have become friends and the support network it offers has been hugely beneficial. Max is now training to mentor others starting up a business.
His main focus, however, is on building his business, which will focus on wellbeing as well as physical fitness, including healthy eating, massage and counselling. He has plans to run youth projects, a project for men over 50 and one for people with Parkinson’s. Research, he says, shows boxing is really good for balance and memory. He is using his contacts from his previous work, including the Kiyan Prince Foundation and QPR, and says now – as we emerge from the isolation of Covid – there is more need than ever for what he is offering. “The demand is definitely there,” he says. “And there are so many mental health and long-term health issues associated with Covid, including long Covid. I want to help.”