Imagine this.... you've signed up to do a group exercise class. You've never tried one before, but you want to increase your fitness, learn a new skill and meet new people.
How do you feel before the first class? Nervous? Scared? Shy?
That's exactly how many people felt on the first day of a new Pilates class at the high street community hub in Moe.
Perhaps a little more so than usual, as the class is the first opportunity for people with high support needs to participate in a group fitness program.
It's well known that physical activity provides many benefits for physical and psychological well-being, social connectedness and community inclusion.
But only 49% of Australians with mild or moderate disability and only 35% of those with a profound or severe disability have participated in sport and physical recreation, compared with 60% of the broader population.
The Local Inclusive Fitness for Everyone (LIFE) project has been breaking down barriers, and creating positive outcomes for participants in Moe since it began in 2016.
On Friday morning's students from the Moe Life Skills Community Centre (MLSCC) and local community members set up their mats alongside one another and sweat it out during the 45 minute class. After class there is time to cool down and socialise over morning tea.
The LIFE program is unique because it allows a less structured social and physical activity for people living with disability. It's working through a range of barriers that the students experience, including communication barriers and physical support requirements that can limit their participation in certain activities, particularly those in the wider community.
The LIFE program is designed to accommodate these challenges and allow students dignity, independence and most of all, enjoyment!
It's also breaking down social barriers for the community members who are building their confidence to socialise with people who live with a disability.
Dr Carole Broxham is the CEO of MLSCC, and has worked in academia and the disability service sector to advocate for better outcomes for people with disability. Carole designed the LIFE program in collaboration with Dr Eli Ristevski from Monash University's Department of Rural Health. The project will help inform valuable and internationally ground-breaking research to improve health and well-being outcomes for people with increased education and training opportunities for disability support workers.
"What we do find is that many people, especially those with an intellectual disability, often remain apart from, rather than a part of, the community" said Carole. "The LIFE project encourages people to have those personal connections, and to see the person behind the disability. I think what people will find is that people with disabilities are far more similar than different to themselves."
One of the many positive outcomes form the program is the relationship that has built between student Paul and new friend Sharon.
Paul told us that the LIFE program helped him build confidence. In the first few weeks he used a chair during the class, but as the weeks passed he built up the confidence to move to a mat on the floor. He now sets up an exercise mat next to Sharon, a local community member who has joined the class. Sharon and Paul have bonded during classes, and have also caught up socially in their own time.
"It's been really quite empowering to see the change over the time that we've been together" said qualified Pilates instructor Anna McKenzie, who welcomed the chance to lead the classes for Moe Life Skills students.
"I think mentally the students get a lot out of it, even through they can't articulate that all the time. Physically, I can see better range of movement, flexibility, and just self-confidence. And then, the actual coming together at the end for our coffee, and having that social interaction has been very nice."
"The students all have different needs, but it's not difficult to work with them, because they're there for the same reason I'm there. They want to be active, and they have the right to be, like we all do. "
MLSCC is a NDIS registered provider and has operated in the Moe area for over 30 years as an adult and community education provider, offering a range of activities, programs and further education and training for people who have a disability.
Bank Australia is proud to be supporting the LIFE project through our Impact Fund customer grants program. As part of our commitment to responsible banking, we invest 4% of our after-tax profits in initiatives that benefit people and the planet.