Local wellbeing program makes a play for health – and happiness

Everyone knows the Western Bulldogs are a fit bunch, but there’s another team of western suburbs champions that you might not know about. Meet Sons and Daughters of the West: the group of dedicated locals set on boosting health and happiness one weekly session at a time.

Some of the fittest people on the planet are members of the Western Bulldogs Football Club. But the club is also the home of some other local heroes: everyday locals who get together every week with a simple aim – to work on becoming a little healthier, and a little happier.

Sons of the West kicked off five years ago when the club realised it could use some of its hard-won expertise to help benefit the local community. "We saw an opportunity for a program that could address some of the poor health outcomes of men in the Western Suburbs," says Alyssa Huxtable, Community Health Promotion Coordinator at the Bulldogs. "From there, it has just grown."

For ten weeks, blokes of all ages gather for two hours of training – and it’s not just the physical variety. While there's definitely plenty of sweat involved, the Bulldogs also invites a range of local experts along to discuss important issues such as nutrition, mental health and violence against women.

"It's an opportunity for the men to hear from experts in the area then talk to each other about it. It encourages them to talk about their health in ways that they otherwise wouldn’t," Alyssa explains. "In the first couple of years, Sons of the West was definitely more of a physical health program, but as it's gone on, mental health has become more of a focus; there was just a big demand for it."

Naturally, it's not just men who need to focus on their health. So, this year, for the first time, the club and its council partners launched Daughters of the West, a wellbeing program specifically tailored to women.

"Women can drop out of involvement in sports or physical activity for many different reasons," says Alyssa. "A lot of women say they know their health is important, but other things come first – whether it be family, career or caring for others. Daughters of the West has become an opportunity for local women to put themselves first and make that time for themselves.”

Daughters of the West graduate Jessie from Ballarat believes that the supportive environment is a key element in making exercise enjoyable. “I love the physical exercise part, and I feel quite comfortable with the environment,” she says. “Everyone has been lovely.”

The new program comes on the heels of the success of the AFLW, which has catapulted women's sports to a new level of public fascination. "I think it's a very hot topic at the moment, and I suppose that was a big motivation for us to get Daughters of the West up and running," Alyssa explains. "Now that the AFLW league is up and running the sport is even more inclusive, which is amazing. Women are doing some amazing things in the AFLW arena and it’s only continuing to grow."

For the men and women involved, the program in an opportunity to not only improve their physical health but to get out and connect with their community too, which is now widely known to play a major role in good mental health. "That's what the program is all about: getting people together, uniting them," Alyssa says. "It just brings together so many different people.”

And, according to Alyssa, the participation of the community – its people, its councils and its businesses – will continue to sustain the program into the future. "Watergardens is a Corporate partner of the Sons and Daughters of the West programs. They have also assisted us over the years with things like hosting sign-up days and promoting the programs around the centre," says Alyssa. "It’s a great way for us to get our message out; it’s where the community is.”

But, of course, any community is made up of individuals – each one with a story of their own. For Jessie, the people she met at Daughters of the West helped get her through a rough patch – all while improving her health. “I’ve been through a tough time over the past couple of years,” Jessie says. “Daughters of the West is making a difference and helping people like myself by running this amazing program. Positivity and encouragement go a long way!”

Ready to step up your own health and wellbeing? Recruit a mate and sign up to become a Son or Daughter of the West, where you can join regular wellbeing programs in Ballarat, Brimbank, Melton, Sunbury and Wyndham. For more details on the Sons and Daughters of the West Programs, follow the link below.