An innovative program offering free sport and recreation activities across the Latrobe Valley is getting more young people active and addressing a drop-off in sport participation.
Latrobe Streetgames, which aims to increase engagement in sport, social sport and active recreation, has seen more than 10,000 young people take part in events across several towns in the region since the first activities began in September 2018.
The program began after research from the region showed a big drop-off in sports participation in people aged 12 to 25. The drop was even larger for women, gender diverse individuals, and those experiencing barriers like injury, illness, disability, or financial strain.
Delivered by GippSport, the program aims to boost physical activity through a diverse range of sports and activities, and was funded by the Latrobe Health Innovation Zone and rolled out in partnership with the Latrobe Health Assembly and other local groups. Sport and activity options range from modified sports to alternative options, including as 3 on 3 basketball, street soccer, dodgeball, skate and scoot, table tennis and boxing.
Associate Professor Joanne Porter, from Federation University’s School of Nursing and Healthcare Professions, who led the evaluation of the program, said research showed many younger people from across the region had not been regularly engaging with their local sporting clubs.
“There are various reasons for this. It could be financial, it could be the availability of sports or just a lack of interest. What we've been seeing recently is a move away from the mainstream network of football, basketball and netball,” Associate Professor Porter said.
“The target audience had been around that 12 to 25 range and it's grown beyond that and gone beyond our expectations. It’s providing fun activities and access to coaches in a really non-committal way.”
Associate Professor Porter said the program had seen many younger people employed as coaches, giving them the opportunity to build their skills and connect with the community.”
“So it's a fabulous program and it has had a large body of work around its evaluation to see its impact. So that's an exciting outcome for this unique and very important project in the Latrobe region which has secured ongoing funding.”
Streetgames is one of several health initiatives in the region. Federation University was commissioned in 2018 to co-design, with community members, the Latrobe Health and Wellbeing Charter which stemmed from the response to the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry.
The Victorian Government designated the Latrobe Valley a Health Innovation Zone, leading to the formation of the Latrobe Health Assembly to promote, support and oversee the development of the zone and to appoint a Health Advocate for the Latrobe Valley.
“This really is the seminal piece of work that all community engagement projects are based on – the guiding principles from the charter. It has been endorsed by a number of organisations, agencies and government bodies around Latrobe, and it was then seen that we needed to expand on that,” Associate Professor Porter said.
Associate Professor Porter said there was a considerable number of projects that required formal evaluation, creating an opportunity to build local evaluation capacity within the region. It led to the creation of the university’s Collaborative Evaluation Unit.
“The exciting part of this team that we put together at Gippsland is that we're from three very unique, very different schools. Members are from the School of Nursing and Healthcare Professions, the School of Business and the School of Arts. We each came with a unique set of skills and techniques, definitely different perspectives on how to conduct and run evaluations which is a strength of the Collaborative Evaluation Unit,” Associate Professor Porter said.
“That wealth of experience actually led into the development of what we’re calling the Participatory Evaluation Framework. We know that the greatest success comes from community projects that actively engage with the community. Ensuring co-design is at the heart of each project while incorporating community members within project development, implementation and evaluation.”
The engagement has extended across Latrobe and further in a series of workshops and seminars aimed at building capacity in the evaluation space.
“And the word spread as it was an open invitation to all agencies and organisations in Latrobe, it’s been a fabulous space to work in. We were then commissioned to evaluate these unique community projects, including Streetgames.”