Getting active in nature's gym

Volunteers from disability services in Geelong helped improve the environment as part of an innovative 'Green Gym' program. The program has provided an opportunity for people using disability services to volunteer and connect with conservation groups. Read Getting active in nature's gym.

A group of volunteers set up tree guards as part of Geelong's Active in Parks program.

Volunteers from disability services in Geelong helped improve the environment as part of an innovative 'Green Gym' program. The program has provided an opportunity for people using disability services to volunteer and connect with conservation groups.

More than 50 people from disability services including St Laurence, Karingal, Encompass, and Leisure Networks attended the program facilitated by Parks Victoria, Conservation Volunteers and Leisure Networks.

The Green Gym volunteers planted trees, removed non-indigenous vegetation, made tree guards and upgraded tracks at the Barwon Water aqueduct in Breakwater and at Yollinko Wetlands near Balyang Sanctuary.

Parks Victoria spokesperson Sue Noonan says the Green Gym program was developed in light of research that shows spending time in a natural space like a park improves people's physical and mental wellbeing.

Sue Cormack from Leisure Networks said as well as learning about conservation, the program enabled participants to develop a range of new skills to enhance future employment opportunities.

'This is a great opportunity for people with a disability to give something back and connect with local conservation groups,' explains Sue. 'During our first day out in the field, a number of volunteers from the Friends of the Bellarine Rail Trail and Friends of Waurn Ponds Creek came to work alongside the volunteers which provides an opportunity for ongoing connections for people to volunteer.'

'It is important that people with a disability have the chance to connect and become included in the community and this is a great opportunity to get the ball rolling,' she said.

'By coming along to Green Gym, the volunteers and their support workers have got out and about, improved the environment and developed some new skills that could help their employment opportunities in the future.'

The Green Gym program has been very popular, with most groups volunteering for five sessions or more.

Karingal Student Matthew has enjoyed participating in the program.

'It’s great getting out and having some fun, being part of the group and outdoors has been good,' he said.

Others volunteers have also enjoyed their time in the Green Gym, saying it's been great 'being with friends, doing something different.'

This recent Green Gym in Geelong was part of the Geelong's Active in Parks program which aims to connect people across the Geelong region to parks and open spaces as a way of enhancing their physical and mental health. It is a great example of a program which successfully brings together a number of organisations. It is a joint pilot program of Parks Victoria, People and Parks Foundation and G21 – Geelong Regional Alliance, and is sponsored by Medibank Community Fund. Local partners Leisure Networks and Conservation Volunteers were integral in coordinating Green Gym in Geelong. Support from local land managers Barwon Water and Corangamite Catchment Management Authority was also crucial in the success of this initiative.

Another Green Gym program is planned in the Geelong area later this year. For more information and details contact John Kenwright on (03) 8627 4652 or Leesa Riley (03) 8680 2116.

For more information visit www.activeinparks.org or follow @ActiveinParks on Twitter www.twitter.com/ActiveinParks