From free school meals to national theatre tour: Former Chapel-en-le-Frith High School pupil returning to High Peak with new theatre production

A man who grew up in poverty surviving on free school meals and charity donations is now a successful author and is returning to the High Peak to tour his first show.
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Oliver Sykes grew up on Woodland Road in Chapel-en-le-Frith and was raised by his single dad of Romani heritage.

As one of six children money was tight and the family relied on food donations to get by.

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The family ate nothing but pancakes for a year when his mum left as his dad didn't know how to make anything else - and his uncle gave them free eggs.

Oliver Sykes from Chapel-en-le-Frith is now an award winning author and returning to the High Peak with his new one man show - Alfie's First Fight. Pic submitted.Oliver Sykes from Chapel-en-le-Frith is now an award winning author and returning to the High Peak with his new one man show - Alfie's First Fight. Pic submitted.
Oliver Sykes from Chapel-en-le-Frith is now an award winning author and returning to the High Peak with his new one man show - Alfie's First Fight. Pic submitted.

Now Oliver is an award winning children’s author and has a decade of theatre production work under his belt.

Charming, and humble, he has made it his mission to help other young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to get into the arts and writing, which are often seen as very middle class careers.

This year he is touring his first novel, Alfie’s First Fight - which he has turned into an interactive one man production - around the country and will be appearing at both at S&F Fitness and Boxing in New Mills and Buxton Amateur Boxing Club.

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The 33-year-old said: “I owe everything to my dad, I wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for him.”

Oliver Sykes from Chapel-en-le-Frith is now an award winning author and returning to the High Peak with his new one man show - Alfie's First Fight. Pic submitted.Oliver Sykes from Chapel-en-le-Frith is now an award winning author and returning to the High Peak with his new one man show - Alfie's First Fight. Pic submitted.
Oliver Sykes from Chapel-en-le-Frith is now an award winning author and returning to the High Peak with his new one man show - Alfie's First Fight. Pic submitted.
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Oliver said his dad was working 60-70 hour weeks to keep the family going and most of the parenting was done by his mum.

However, when his mum left Oliver said his dad, Christopher Sykes, became more involved with his family.

He said: “I remember he called each of the children up one at at time in the bedroom and asked them to read a book out loud.

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“I wasn’t the greatest reader and I struggled to read to my dad.

Oliver Sykes in his boxing youth, pic submittedOliver Sykes in his boxing youth, pic submitted
Oliver Sykes in his boxing youth, pic submitted

“It was taking so much energy to read the book that when he stopped and asked me what I had read I couldn’t tell him.

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“But with his help and guidance I learned to read and from then went on to university, and I have spent the last ten years working in theatre but if he hadn't given me the opportunities to read I don’t know where I would be.”

Oliver also trained at Buxton Amateur Boxing Club where his dad, who still lives in the High Peak, was a coach.

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Oliver wanted to be a boxer but his sporting dreams were shattered - along with his hand - after he was set upon by a bunch of teenagers in the park.

He decided to follow his second passion of performing and did theatre studies at Lancaster University.

He said: “After that I worked at Ferodo when I graduated and was then lucky enough to win a bursary that offered me paid work experience and that is so rare.

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“Normally people have to work for free but they are supported by their parents but for me that was never an option I needed to earn and work.”

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The book centres on a young 12-year-old boy who is being raised by his dad.

When one of his brothers goes missing before the biggest fight of his life it is up to Alfie to save the day.

On the surface, it's a simple adventure story about goodies and baddies and the drama of the boxing ring. But Alfie's First Fight is also about love, loss, family and learning how to fight for what you want.

Oliver said: “A single dad is largely absent in children’s books. I remember growing up and my favourite book was Danny, Champion of the World, because it was the only book that I felt I could relate to.

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“Representation is so important, and shows an underdog boy become the hero and be great and good.

“I am taking the show not just to theatres but to boxing clubs up and down the country because for me it is important to show the next generation themselves and that they can be anything.

“Anyone who has any connection with boxing also has a story of how boxing set them straight or gave them that fire in their belly.

“The show is a chance to hold up a mirror for these young people and show them their story.”

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The 55-minute production, which has previously toured libraries, features only Oliver who plays all the characters.

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He quickly gets the audience on side and asks them questions to get them involved.

He said: “I can’t believe that not only have I have I written a book people are engaging with but I have turned it into a production which is also reaching out to more people.”He says at the end of every performance he stays behind, gives away copies of his books and talks to the audience.

He said: “I have given away more than 2,000 free books so far.

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“This may be the only book a child has so I want to make it a positive memory for them and get them engaged with reading.

“I love speaking to children after a show as they are so unabashed. They can and do ask you anything but that’s great it means you have made that connection with them.

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“Alfie’s First Fight is based loosely on me, but it is also for every other child out there who sees themselves as an Alfie.”

The show, aimed at children five plus will be at S&F Fitness and Boxing in New Mills at 2pm on Sunday February, 19 and it is free. Oliver will also be playing to an audience at Buxton Amateur Boxing Club later in the year.

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