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Reclink Connect on the ball

Changing the lives of people experiencing disadvantage for the better – this lies at the heart of the strategic partnership between the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation (VRGF) and Reclink.

While the partnership dates back to 2017, Reclink has been transforming lives for more than 25 years. In fact, a recent evaluation by the Centre for Sport and Social Impact at La Trobe University found that 79 per cent of those who had experienced gambling-related harm found it reduced as a result of their participation in Reclink.

When COVID-19 restrictions came into force in late March, Reclink quickly rejigged its service model so it could continue to have this positive impact.

When it’s business as usual, this not-for-profit provides sport and arts programs to those who experience significant barriers to participation. This includes people who are culturally and linguistically diverse; homeless; living with a physical or mental disability; struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction; youth offenders; and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations.

Community outreach online

While COVID-19 restrictions put Reclink programs on hold, its purpose remained clear: to create socially inclusive opportunities for members. In response, Reclink dramatically expanded its online presence to focus on health education and community outreach via social media such as Facebook and regular phone calls. Dubbed “Reclink Connect”, staff reinforced the government health advice of thorough hand washing and social distancing.

‘Our participants were missing that social connection and also needed our clear explanation of the government advice,’ says Central Victoria Sports Coordinator Andrew Dunn. ‘No ifs and buts; this is what we have to do and why. Our coordinators were making about 30 phone calls a week to check in. Every call we’d be asked, “When’s footy back?”’

This shift in service was in stark contrast to the early March Reclink VRGF cricket grand final series. It comprised Central Victorian teams from support services as varied as the Salvos and residential rehabilitation service Odyssey House.

With friends playing friends and jerseys swapped if one team was trouncing another so the stronger players could even up the score, it was all about loving the game, not the results.

From cricket matches with back slaps and victory hugs one week to social distancing the next, restrictions have been particularly tough for Reclink participants.

Participation boosts wellbeing

Community sport is social exercise that boosts wellbeing. It’s also an alternative to gambling and therefore helps to reduce and prevent harm among participants. And with Reclink activities also including indoor cricket, ten-pin bowling, go-kart racing, basketball and golf, there were enough alternatives to fill every night of a pre-COVID-19 week.

‘In early lockdown we’d get a few of them together on an oval to walk around and chat,’ explains Andrew. ‘It might have been the only time they got out of the house when the news was all doom and gloom. By June we did some kick-to-kick with sterilised balls and hands and BYO drink bottles.

‘We distributed sporting packs to our member agencies. Donated goods like balls, bats, cricket pads, yoga mats and skipping ropes helped their members stay active in their homes or backyards. We’ve also donated more than 100 bikes.

‘Our sports coordinators posted training videos online, set up challenges around push-ups, ball skills and hallway putting, and got participants to post their videos online. We kept the community active and talking. People were telling us it was the highlight of their week and they felt motivated about their own health.’

Reclink connect on the ball

ASTERIA Services provides disability support across the Goldfields area from Bendigo to Maryborough. As well as offering in-home care, employment and accommodation services, they provide social support, and that’s where their relationship with Reclink comes in.

Claire de Natris coordinates ASTERIA’s planning and scheduling. She’s well aware of the social engagement buzz and mental health benefits clients receive from a Reclink-organised footy or cricket match.

‘Reclink focuses on what people can do, not what they can’t,’ she says. ‘That’s been the spirit of Reclink Connect too. Our clients can’t go out and socialise but the sporting equipment has kept them engaged and a part of something.

‘Reclink is very big on inclusiveness, which can be a big barrier in the disability sector.’

‘Reclink is open to all genders and abilities,’ agrees Andrew Dunn. ‘We get feedback that Reclink has changed our participants’ lives and helped them make friends for life. It provides a safe space where we have open conversations and can raise awareness about the risks of gambling.’

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