Reclink Australia is celebrating over one year of bringing joy across the Bega Valley, providing more than 300 opportunities for connection through physical activity and social inclusion for a wide range of community members.
Weekly Reclink activities that encourage people to come and enjoy healthy sport and active recreation together include aqua aerobics, after-school basketball sessions, gentle exercise, yoga, a walking group, and tai chi.
Up to 25 participants join Reclink’s free weekly tai chi session on Fridays in Cobargo, a town and community that were hit hard by the bushfires in 2019/2020.
Facilitator Rod Dunn says the Reclink sessions have simply been ‘life-changing’.
“I loved the opportunity to get involved. The attendance has been overwhelming. It has been a real eye opener to me as a teacher. The tai chi has been my saviour since the fire, and being able to share it with other people has been healing – including for myself.”
Reclink’s impressive footprint covers the breadth of the Bega Valley, with activities ranging from stand-up paddle-boarding in Kiah to basketball in Merimbula, dancing in Quaama, and mindfulness in Bermagui.
Participants enjoy the social interaction, with many activities finishing with a cuppa and a chat, bringing people together after physical activity.
Following the 2019/2020 bushfires, Reclink Australia received funding from the Australian Government’s Black Summer Bushfire Recovery Grants program to provide activities that would assist communities to recover from the trauma of the bushfires and subsequent effects of the COVID pandemic.
Reclink Sport and Recreation Manager for Regional East Victoria, Callista Cooper, says the recovery journey for each individual is vastly different, and activities which bring people together will have a lasting impact in the Bega Valley.
“Reclink provides locals with the opportunity to reconnect, learn, and practice self-care strategies in a safe and supportive environment, with the programs being community led, free, and inclusive,” she said.
“What we are seeing is that recovery takes time, and the need for Reclink’s ongoing presence in the area is clear.”
“We have heard from clinicians whose clients have accessed Reclink programs and reported increased meaningful connections, the building of confidence and self-esteem, and reduced levels of distress. The flow-on effect is a reduced community need for clinical interventions, which is incredibly significant and hugely beneficial to the region.”
Louise Yeoman, Care Coordinator and Community Liaison Officer from Connections Plus Disability Services, says the weekly laser tag and mini golf sessions for participants with a disability has been life-changing for vulnerable members of the community.
“This opportunity has not just improved physical health, but also the mental wellbeing of our participants, providing immediate benefits. Since the introduction of the weekly activities, we have seen new friendships form, skills advanced, confidence grow, teamwork, bonding, and overall, improved self-esteem.”
Reclink participant Ben Bowyer, who joins in the laser tag sessions, says Reclink’s ability to ‘think outside the box’ around recreational opportunities for people with a disability has made a solid impact on his life.
“Reclink realises that not all disabled people have great physical condition or strengths and many desire more low impact recreational outlets. Also, many disabled people suffer anxiety or feel otherwise uncomfortable about participating in team sports. This is why this program, organised by Reclink, is a game changer for the disabled in this area.”
Ms Cooper says Reclink’s collaboration with health professionals across the Bega Valley means the social prescription model is crucial for participants attending activities on the advice of health professionals.
“What we are seeing is that as we are moving out of a ‘recovery’ space into a ‘resilience’ space, strong communities are assisted by the provision of a range of free activities for participants to join. With local health professionals using a social prescription model, our activities need to continue to ensure that participants have the resources to improve their physical and mental health.”
Reclink has also enjoyed ‘activating’ a range of spaces in the Bega Valley that are under-utilised but ideal alternate venues for sport and recreation, which adds another level of livability and community engagement to the region.
Senior Sports Coordinator, Julia Willson has brought mindfulness into the many activities she runs throughout the Valley, and the Principal of Quaama Public School, Daniel Roe, says Reclink’s weekly visits to his school earlier this year provided ‘pure joy’.
“Julia has such a great rapport with the students, and she brings such a positive vibe. Students have enjoyed Wednesday lunchtimes when she visits as they get to do things that the school can’t always offer. Her mindfulness sessions have been received very well with many students benefitting from her relaxed approach to improving wellbeing.”
Funding for these programs is due to end in March 2024. Until then, the Reclink team will continue providing fun and healthy activities for the community, including pool parties across the Valley. Reclink will also continue to seek funding and lobby local MPs and other community representatives to help maintain and grow their work in the area.