SPECIAL OLYMPICS Australia and leisure management giant Belgravia Leisure just extended their successful three-year partnership for a second term, aiming to get thousands more people with disability active. Joining the partnership will be Belgravia Kids and Belgravia Foundation.
The partnership was championed by Dr Jeff Walkley, Belgravia Leisure’s National Disability and Diversity Manager, and Belgravia Foundation CEO. Through Walkley, the partnership’s roots connect to the early years of the Special Olympics movement in the US, fostered by the powerful Kennedy clan.
Growing up in a small country town in South Australia, Walkley loved sport and the accompanying social connection. He got his dream job as a physical education teacher, but quickly faced challenges including children with a disability.
Wanting to advance their inclusion, Walkley headed to the US in the early 1980s, where, in contrast to the rest of the world, training opportunities in this field proliferated following passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act 1975.
The Kennedy clan were influential lobbyists for the landmark law, which required all public schools accepting federal funds to provide equal access to education – including physical education – for children with physical and intellectual disabilities.
Walkley did a master’s degree in Adapted Physical Education at Michigan State University at the same time as volunteering for the fledgling Special Olympics inclusion movement.
He then brought his cutting-edge knowledge back to the Australian sport scene.
Over three decades in academia, Walkley rose to Associate Professor and Head of Department in both Exercise and Sport Sciences and Disability Studies at RMIT University in Bundoora. His former students are leaders across Australia’s sport, physical education, leisure and health sectors.
During his tenure, he pioneered a community program to get people with intellectual disability playing sport alongside students on campus. The program’s runaway success saw it expand so much that the sports facilities – managed by Belgravia Leisure – reached maximum use rate.
Seeing that inclusion is good for business, Belgravia appointed Walkley to improve its delivery of programs to people with disability. Partnering with allied organisations including Special Olympics Australia helps further that aim, and promotes Belgravia Leisure’s commitment to partnership and collaboration.
Access to Special Olympics Australia’s online coach training programs will boost the confidence of Belgravia staff to open more programs to people with disability. Over time, this will lift levels of physical activity across the whole community – as well as Belgravia’s bottom line.
Belgravia Group is a half-billion-dollar conglomerate chaired by founder Geoff Lord – a business luminary who debuted on The Financial Review Rich List in 2005. Belgravia Leisure contributes over $100m to group revenue, operating more than 220 venues in Australia and New Zealand and employing 6000 staff.
Belgravia’s strong values are fundamental to the success of the business. As a companiesy, Belgravia Leisure and Belgravia Kids not only commits to improving the health and wellbeing of the millions of people who visit their venues, they are also invested in prioritising inclusion of people with disability or disadvantage. Likewise, Belgravia Foundation drives innovation related to inclusion into leisure and sport, and shares new knowledge with the entire leisure and sport sector.
Special Olympics Australia has a national network of 47 clubs comprising 2,750 athletes. Now, people with intellectual disability attending Belgravia’s venues can compete in Special Olympics events, potentially expanding the movement’s catchment significantly in areas where it has one city-based club, but Belgravia has multiple regional venues.
“Families of children living with disability are more time poor. Instead of travelling a long way to participate in that single Special Olympics club, they will be able to go somewhere more accessible,” Walkley says.
The partnership could also open employment breaks for Special Olympics athletes, as Belgravia has an inclusive hiring policy and lots of roles to keep filled.
Alongside Belgravia Leisure, two other companies in Belgravia Group’s consortium, Belgravia Kids and the Belgravia Foundation, of which Walkley is CEO, signed the extended alliance. Belgravia Foundation drives innovation related to inclusion into leisure and sport, and shares new knowledge with the entire leisure and sport sector.
Belgravia Kids caters to young families living on fast-growing metropolitan areas, providing temporary gymnastics and swimming facilities for preschool and primary school-aged children that can move with the pace of urban sprawl. This means that those children for whom distance and transport would otherwise be barriers to activity don’t miss out while governments build permanent facilities.
The partnership will let Special Olympics Australia offer its Young Athletes program through Belgravia Kids gymnastics facilities including those on the city outskirts.
Young Athletes is an all-abilities program that introduces children aged two to eight to fundamental movements they will use in sports and daily life through play.
Easier access to the program will help children outside city centres who would otherwise experience challenges developing movement and social skills and be less active than children without disabilities.
“There are so many interconnections between what Belgravia and Special Olympics Australia do. We are looking forward to seeing how our partnership over the next three years can further improve access to leisure for people with disability,” Walkley says.
Find out more about Belgravia Leisure here.
Special Olympics Australia strives to ensure that everyone living with an intellectual disability can participate in sport. We provide: