Above From left, Kylie Barlow, Rose Durkin and Jan Kotevski enjoy morning tea after a Green Gym session at Flat Rock Beach, Ballina NSW.
Green Gym is a program developed by The Conservation Volunteers in the UK and delivered locally by Conservation Volunteers Australia (CVA). The program aims to get people outdoors and connecting with their local environment and community to encourage physical activity and help them to feel better.
A UK study completed by Oxford Brookes University showed that Green Gym had multiple benefits ranging from a measurable drop in participants’ anxiety to significant improvements in social and community connections.
CVA has been delivering a Green Gym for Carers program in the Northern Rivers region of NSW since September 2018. According to a Deakin University study, carers experience poor rates of physical and mental health compared to the general Australian population.
Many carers don’t self-identify, but one in ten NSW residents could be defined as carers as they are providing support to a family member or friend. People who experience poor mental health, disability, chronic or terminal illness or drug or alcohol dependency often have someone in their lives who provides practical and emotional support – a carer.
Green Gym for Carers is a peer-support program that combines health and social interaction with conservation.
Carers engage in meaningful, nature-based activities with other carers, helping to build social connections between people who understand the challenges that caring presents.
This year the program has expanded to become a Wellbeing in Nature program, open for anyone to join and experience the benefits of caring for themselves and their local environment. The program is running in the Ballina/Byron Bay, Pottsville and Lismore areas of NSW. Each session begins with light warm up stretches, followed by fieldwork and ends with a healthy morning tea.
Kylie Barlow, who attends the Ballina and Pottsville sessions, joined in 2018 after being referred to the program by her local neighbourhood centre. She says it’s been good for her to have something that she does on her own – that’s just for her.
“It’s the one thing in the week that I go to, and I love conservation, I’m a massive plant nerd. I haven’t thought of doing anything like this before but it’s really awesome as it’s helping me with a purpose. I find it grounding and I’m enjoying identifying different weeds and removing them and finding out about native plants.
Kylie believes the program has also contributed to her feelings of improved wellbeing.
“I’ve been experiencing high anxiety so coming to a program where you can share with people – or not – and do something together has been really beneficial, as well as connecting back into the community and meeting new lovely people,” she said.
Rose Durkin has also been participating in Green Gym since 2018. She volunteers on other CVA projects too.
“My husband and I moved to Ballina a year and couple of months ago, to be closer to one of our boys. I’m not working, which is why I’m doing volunteer work. I just like being outdoors. I have been previously involved in Landcare, controlling bitou bush. Here we’re doing asparagus fern and bitou bush and I like it because sometimes we’ll do that, and other times we’ll go around and pick up rubbish near the park where we have our morning tea.
“I rode my bike here today, I try to ride every day, and I think getting out to do something with a purpose is really beneficial,” Rose said.
According to CVA Team Leader Jan Kotevski, Green Gym has been successful in terms of conservation outcomes and providing social and mental health benefits for the participants.
“Participants tell me they have thoroughly enjoyed the social aspects – meeting new people, some in similar life circumstances as carers – and learning new skills like weed control methods and flora and fauna identification. The active outdoor engagement is a big drawcard and participants can see positive conservation outcomes,” Jan said.
The program is hosted by CVA with funding from the NSW Department of Family and Community Services. Partner organisations include Ballina Shire Council, Tweed Shire Council, Lismore City Council, Jali Local Aboriginal Land Council and Friends of Lismore Rainforest Botanic Gardens.
Liz Hajenko is the Marketing and Communications Officer for CVA.
If you are interested in supporting or being a part of a similar program in Victoria, please contact Mark Paganini at CVA Geelong at mapaganinI@cva.org.au