Sport is proving the winner for increasing community involvement and building social connection among youth in Armidale, with a new leadership program about to expand the opportunities. 

500 Armidale citizens, from newly-arrived migrant and refugee backgrounds including the Ezidi community, have already been able to engage with a range of community team sports, gym classes and swimming lessons through a current program aimed at encouraging inclusion and participation.   

The program, designed by UNE education academics Dr Kristy O’Neill and Professor Pep Baker, was launched in 2020 with a $204,252 funding grant from the Australian Government Department of Health’s ‘Driving Social Inclusion Through Sport and Physical Activity’ scheme. 

Dr O’Neill says the uptake has been even stronger than expected, especially with consideration to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We’ve been overwhelmed by the number of people who have wanted to participate in the funded activities on offer through the program. It has proven that sport is a fantastic way to promote social inclusion and participation and to bring youth and other community members together in really positive ways,” she says.

Now, a $40,000 grant through the Multicultural NSW COMPACT program will enable Dr O’Neill and Professor Baker to further extend their collaborations and partnerships within the Armidale community.

Dr O’Neill says the new ‘Leadership for Ezidi and Aboriginal youth in Armidale Program (LEAAP)’, will be delivered over six months in partnership with social enterprise Creating Chances, Northern Settlement Services (NSS) and the NSW Department of Education. It aims to aid recovery from social isolation and promote harmony for youth who have may have been specifically impacted by recent disasters.

“Armidale has endured a number of disasters since 2019, including severe drought, bushfires, the COVID pandemic, and a tornado that have been challenging for everyone, and specifically have compounded disruptions to face-to-face learning and social engagement for young people,” Dr O’Neill says. 

“LEAAP will entail a co-designed program led by Creating Chances with a diverse group of 20 students at Armidale Secondary College, including those from Aboriginal and Ezidi backgrounds. It seeks to use Positive Youth Development through sport principles to provide youth-led opportunities to collaborate, identify issues of significance to them, and develop creative tools and strategies they can use to help lead change.”

With an emphasis on building social cohesion and community resilience, the program will culminate in a series of World Traditional Games events to be delivered at local primary schools and in the community.

“The student leaders will design and deliver modified sporting activities, representative of a range of cultural backgrounds whereby they can share and celebrate culture.

“It will be an experiential way to showcase the diverse cultures that make up the Armidale community, and provide our emerging youth leaders the chance to develop coaching, mentoring, teamwork and teaching skills,” Dr O’Neill says.

General Manager of Creating Chances, Mr Brad McCarroll, says they’re looking forward to delivering the joint program for the youth and the community.

“We are excited to continue our collaboration with UNE and build on the relationships we’ve established across a number of community organisations and schools in Armidale over the past year,” Mr McCarroll says.

“Through LEAAP, we hope that participants and leaders of the program enjoy learning from each other, recognise similarities and embrace each other’s differences, and promote positive intergenerational relationships.”

The World Traditional Games events are due to take place as the final stage of the program in August-September 2022.

Aerial image of UNE education researchers Associate Professor Pep Serow and Dr Kristy O'Neill on the indoor UNE basketball courts

Professor Pep Baker and Dr Kristy O’Neill, UNE School of Education.