University of New England education researchers Dr Kristy O’Neill and Associate Professor Pep Serow applied for a share of a $19 million national grant, available for community programs focused on ‘driving social inclusion through sport and physical activity’, to increase opportunities for Armidale’s newly-settled Ezidi refugees and other recently arrived Australian migrants.
“Sport and community exercise are great ways for new arrivals to make friends and connections, especially in regional areas where these activities are often a primary means of social connection,” says program lead Dr Kristy O’Neill.
“I’m excited by the opportunity to bring this program to Armidale as another way to encourage community connection and allow more people to attain the physical, mental and social benefits that regular exercise enables.”
Dr O’Neill says a range of linguistic, cultural and socioeconomic factors can make it more difficult for refugees and migrants to participate in sport and physical activity in the community, which the program aims to address.
“The program we’re developing with the grant will provide access to free and flexible sport, fitness, and swimming classes with existing local providers to run across 2021 school terms.
Transport to and from activities and translation assistance will also be provided where required, to ensure as many people as possible are able to participate,” Dr O’Neill says.
“Sport and water safety are important aspects of community life and Australian culture, and it’s important our newest citizens from CALD backgrounds have the skills, knowledge and confidence to be able to share in these activities.
“It is really positive that the Department of Health is seeking to address these inequities by funding community programs across the nation. In accordance with federal ‘Sport 2030’ objectives, every Australian regardless of gender, ability, ethnicity or geographic location should be able to exercise in safe, fun and inclusive ways,” says Dr O’Neill.
Having worked for many years with locals in Nauru to improve the quality of education in local schools, program co-developer A/Prof Pep Serow says understanding the research findings from the program will be key.
“The research and evaluation we’ll be conducting throughout the program will help inform what best practice looks like for helping migrants and refugees transition to a new community. Our hope is that these findings will then be used throughout Australia, particularly to benefit regional areas, and have ongoing benefits,” she says.
She says local partnerships will also ensure the program’s success.
“UNE prides itself on community engagement, and this grant will provide an opportunity for Armidale stakeholders to collaborate in finding positive strategies for people who have experienced former hardship and often trauma.”
Dr O’Neill and A/Prof Serow will develop the details of the program in coming months before its launch in 2021.