Alternative education project helps provide kids across Burton with a brighter future

13th November 2023

A trio of martial arts instructors in Burton-on-Trent are going above and ‘beyond’ to help local teens who are struggling in mainstream schools.

Co-owners of the Beyond Youth Project, Kev Ayre, Matt Smith and Josh Wardle are helping to fill the gap for vulnerable and disadvantaged youngsters who fail to thrive in the classroom, due to a range of issues.

The three teachers have opened an alternative education centre at their martial arts studio in the High Street, providing Princes Trust qualifications, vocational studies and health and wellbeing through a physical education programme.

The project has been made possible thanks to multiple sources of funding including a £9,000 grant from Severn Trent’s Community Fund, which has helped transform the existing building into classrooms, functional training areas, break out rooms and a music studio.

Since opening, the project has been able to help over 50 kids from the age of 12 upwards, who have been referred from local schools in and around Burton.

“Some of these kids have had truly heart-breaking lives,” said Kev. “Their troubled backgrounds have impacted their behaviours, which means they don’t settle very well in mainstream school. Other kids are just not suited to academia and become restless in classes, which means they miss out on learning and the chance of a bright future.”

The idea for a youth project came years before, with Kev already a well-known teacher in the local community, having run his Beyond Black Belt mixed martial arts school in Burton for more than 30 years. He trained both his co-owners, who joined the martial arts school as young lads.

However, more recently, all three men realised there was a need to provide more than just martial arts to the local teenage community. They wanted to do more to shape their futures, by teaching life skills, helping to build their confidence and create a sense of belonging.

“What became apparent was that our kids lacked a strong, male role model in their lives,” added Kev. “They would come to us because they wanted to build up their strength and learn to fight, but it was important for us to show them that real strength comes from learning to be an individual who doesn’t give into peer pressure.

“I also think that because we’re not a regimented school, and we’re not seen as schoolteachers or parents, they are less inclined to talk back to us.  Also, even though we teach maths and English, we also have subjects like music and sports, which means they get to spend a few hours doing something they really love.”

As well as traditional lessons, the Beyond Youth Project offers life skills teachings, such as how to eat healthy, opening a bank account and even internet safety.

“The funding we have received from Severn Trent has made a huge difference. Without it, we would not have been able to start our school as the space wouldn’t have been functional. We are hugely grateful to Severn Trent for helping us to make a huge difference to the lives of so many kids in Burton.”

Jade Gough, Severn Trent’s Community Fund Officer, said: “It was fantastic to see the project, now that it is all up and running. It’s such an incredible programme and Kev and the team are truly inspirational, helping so many teenagers get the best possible start in life. This is exactly what our Community Fund was set up for and we wish everyone the very best of luck in the future.”

For more information on the Severn Trent Community Fund and to find out how to make an application visit