Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal

The Yinnar & District Memorial Hall Committee has achieved significant outcomes in improving the lives of local mature people. Led by Hall President, Glenys Webster and supported by Kathleen Millett, Specialised Exercise Therapist, the health and wellness program has created a welcoming, special place designed specifically for the needs of older people.

“You get to a certain age and you realise there is a whole group missing out.” Glenys Webster

Funded by the Victorian Bushfire Appeal Fund through several rounds of FRRR’s Grants for Resilience & Wellness program, this initiative commenced as a bushfire recovery activity following the 2009 Black Saturday fires. More than a decade on, it continues to bring local people together in an accessible and supportive environment to look after themselves, build friendships and connect with others. It has also created a local gathering point in the community for other services to connect with participants to share information and assistance, such as the provision of meals through COVID lockdowns.

The classes cater for seniors of various abilities, with the exercise specialist adapting and modifying the exercises designed for residents to remain independent and in their own homes. Tai Chi is practised each week, along with exercises involving strength, balance and mobility. Staying well and reducing injuries are among the varied topics covered through interactive sessions. Time at the end of each class for participants to have a cup of tea and connect socially is an important component of the program.

In 2019, Federation University evaluated the health and wellness program, finding that it has made a significant local impact:

  • Increased social connection and sense of belonging amongst participants leading to increased mental health benefits. This program has significantly reduced isolation and loneliness, for many it’s the one activity they look forward to going to each week.
  • Improvements in confidence, fitness levels and overall physical health, function and movement. This may lead to fewer hospital admissions.
  • Increase in vitality and vigour and the ability of participants to remain living independently and in their own home and community.
  • The program also provides an opportunity for service providers to engage with mature aged community members living remotely, learn from them and share information and resources.

(Federation University, 2019, FRRR Health and Wellness Program 2019 Evaluation Report, Collaborative Evaluation Unit)

After running for such a long time, the Hall Committee has worked out that the key ingredients for success of the program are its affordability and accessibility, as well as the fact that it runs to a regular and consistent schedule, with skilled assistance. The sharing of common issues and needs develops a sense of belonging and collective strength, recognising that recovery takes time and being socially connected to the local community is important to the short, medium and longer term recovery process.

“It’s the connection that’s really important, enjoying each other’s company and the companionship they share with each other. For some people it’s the only thing they have if they live alone… After the COVID lockdowns, we weren’t sure what was going to happen, but the first week back we had 31 people turn up! And following the floods and storms that hit this area, mental health has become an even greater concern…. they are a positive and happy group of people, they accept everyone as they are and are there for each other when times get a bit tough,” Glenys said.

This project demonstrates the central role of community organisations like the Yinnar & District Memorial Hall Committee as champions of place-based, community-led, long-term community recovery.