How Reclink Australia uses sport to improve the lives of those experiencing poor mental health

Reclink Australia, an Australia Post 2020 Community Grant recipient, is helping people in need connect with others in their communities through inclusive sports programs. As part of our Inspiring Australians series, we explore how their Street Games program in Perth, WA is helping communities build social connections and stay mentally and physically healthy.

Reclink Australia opened its doors 30 years ago in St Kilda, Victoria with a mission to help rebuild lives through sport and art in the local community there. From then on, the not-for profit organisation has grown significantly to provide a wide range of sports programs, competitions and recreational activities for disadvantaged community groups in 25 locations across Australia.

Sarah Kitis, Reclink Australia’s State Manager in Western Australia, says the mental health benefits that come with physical activity can’t be emphasised enough.

“Having your endorphins pumping helps you get out of a negative space and build confidence while learning a new skill,” she says. “Participants feel physically better and that has flow on effect on their mental health. Plus they’re also connecting with each other and building relationships. The advantages are never-ending.”

Sarah has experienced these benefits herself through a life of participating in track and field, cycling and triathlon events. Working with Reclink Australia to develop and deliver a range of sports programs was a natural fit.

“I've made some amazing connections and have had incredible experiences as a result of doing sport. I feel like it's my duty to share this ‘secret’ with people.”

Bringing sport to the community

One of Reclink Australia’s many initiatives is its Street Games pop-up program that uses sport, recreation and coaching programs to promote social inclusion and improve the lives of people experiencing disadvantage and poor mental health.

“Street Games is a weekly, drop-in style sports program,” Sarah explains. “The activities vary each week from football and soccer to personal training and boxing. We run the program in a park near local support agencies, so participants can literally walk across the road to us. And we have support workers waiting to assist them there.”

Street Games is now one of Reclink Australia’s most popular and successful programs with a clear goal of improving mental health through connection and social engagement.

In 2020, Reclink Australia received an Australia Post Community Grant to expand Street Games to two more locations in the Perth and Rockingham regions of WA, providing even more opportunities for improved connection and mental health support to communities there.

“Without the support of Australia Post, we wouldn't have been in a position to be able to do that,” Sarah says. “Receiving the grant was really important for us, and it has been instrumental in helping us expand to support more disadvantaged communities.”

Innovating through the COVID-19 pandemic

When the pandemic hit, Reclink Australia’s on-site programs were brought to a temporary halt. Yet Sarah and her team were keen to continue engaging their communities, so they had to think outside the sports field.

During the lockdown, the organisation created online programs to solve this problem. “We implemented a concept called The Sports Share Program where we used some of our operational funds to purchase sports equipment,” Sarah explains.

“We delivered what I like to call sports care packages to our support agencies so that they could then give participants their own sports equipment to use at their own house, their local park or on-site. Then we created YouTube videos to teach people how to do drills, activities, and workouts. The program was really well received.”

It’s this innovation that’s leading Reclink Australia into the future. The organisation has its eyes firmly set on increasing its reach so that it can help more communities thrive.

“We’re looking forward to continuing to build momentum with the programs that we've got going,” Sarah says. “We’ve got great things happening with the Street Games in Perth and in Rockingham, and we’ll hopefully replicate the success that we've seen from our Fremantle program. And we've got many other pilot programs in the pipeline too. There's a lot of opportunity out there."

The Australia Post Community Grants program supports local organisations that are making a difference in their local communities. It’s yet another way we connect Australians across the country.

Our 2021 Community Grants are scheduled to open in June 2021. Find out more