A youth centre has spoken out on the “horror story” of unpaid rent which led to mysterious signs being displayed on Bristol roundabouts.
Four large, plastic signs were placed around the city last December, demanding boxing promoter Matt Crouch “pay back” money to Southmead Youth Centre on Greystoke Avenue.
When we reported on this at the time, the Southmead Development Trust – which runs the youth centre – said Mr Crouch did not owe it any money.
Now the charity has given Bristol Live what it has called “the full picture”.
It says the earlier statement was technically accurate because Mr Crouch does not owe the trust a debt – but it has revealed his now-liquidated company Southmead Boxing Club owed £3,200.
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The trust’s chairman Kevin Sweeney said: “Legally Matt does not owe the trust any money, although he may feel that morally he would not want young people to lose out.”
He says the charity had nothing to do with the signs, which were placed on roundabouts on Crow Lane in Henbury, Westbury Road near The Downs, Gloucester Road North in Filton and Winterstoke Road in Bedminster.
“We actually got people out to take the signs away,” said fellow trustee Lee Gardiner.
(Image: David Betts Photography)
‘We had to set the record straight’
Mr Crouch, 38, ran the boxing club for children between April 2017 and September 2018.
Bristol Live has seen the accounts of the trust, which show the club’s £800 monthly rent was not paid in May, June, July or September 2018.
When we put this to Mr Crouch, he accepted rent was not paid in those months, but initially claimed the boxing club had stopped running by that point.
After we told Mr Crouch his club’s Facebook page was still advertising sessions during that period, he accepted it ran until the September.
Asked why the charity’s initial statement did not mention the debt, Mr Sweeney said there had been a miscommunication within the trust.
He added: “With community-based stuff like this, there’s the law, and then there’s the morality.
“It became a story, and then the community had a perception there was no debt, which isn’t true – we wrote the debt off.
“If someone can walk away and say there is no debt, it’s a problem for our reputation. Every penny counts, and we had to set the record straight.”
‘Money is tight’
Mr Gardiner said: “Money is tight and we desperately need to keep the youth centre open for the community. We can’t afford to let anyone take advantage.”
He described the saga of the unpaid rent as a “horror story” for the youth centre.
Mr Crouch, who stages boxing matches in Bristol with his company Punch Promotions, established Southmead Boxing Club with two other directors.
Mr Sweeney said: “Unfortunately, the boxing club ran into problems paying the rent and the other directors resigned, so Matt was the last director and his company went into liquidation.
“The trust provided a lot of support to Matt to give him time to pay and were disappointed that the Boxing Club failed.
“But we were more disappointed that local young people, who were still paying subscriptions to the boxing club, lost out.”
Mr Gardiner says he confronted Mr Crouch four times about the unpaid rent, but claims the promoter ignored him and refused to give a reason for not paying.
“If you have honour with money, you give a month’s notice – you don’t stay for four months without paying rent,” Mr Gardiner added.
He said the £3,200 in rent would have allowed the trust to pay a youth worker two nights a week for a year.
“Ultimately, the trust had to write this off as it was a debt for the company rather than Matt as an individual,” Mr Sweeney said.
What Mr Crouch says
(Image: Matt Crouch)
Mr Crouch said a lack of support from the trust contributed to the issues which led to his company not paying rent.
He added: “I helped hundreds of kids when I was there. It was during the school holiday that the numbers were low.
“There were just two or three kids turning up, sometimes none. My family were telling me I couldn’t keep doing it because I was losing out.
“I kept it going a lot longer than I would have if I hadn’t cared so much about helping the children.
“I told the trust I couldn’t afford the rent. After three or four months of putting my own money in, they were really not understanding.”
Mr Crouch claims he asked the trust if he could run the club for six months for half the rent.
He said: “I told them I had put £3,000 of my own money into it.
“They turned around and told me, ‘No we can’t lower the rent, it’s just like renting a house.’
“It’s disgusting. Half of the kids I didn’t even charge. I had done great things with that club. I put my heart and soul into it.”
What happened to the equipment?
(Image: David Betts Photography)
Mr Crouch claimed he left £2,000 worth of equipment at the youth centre, including weights, a rowing machine, cross trainer and three punchbags.
In response, Mr Sweeney said: “Any of the kit which remains was purchased via grants which we helped Matt apply for, so it was not his own money.
“A condition of any grant would have been that the equipment was for the benefit of young people, so would remain for the next user.
“We had already acknowledged Matt’s difficulties with the rent by lowering it from £1,000 to £800.
“We want businesses to thrive in Southmead and we supported him as much as possible.”
Mr Sweeney said a martial arts club has replaced Southmead Boxing Club and is “doing really well”.