At a time when people are experiencing isolation and disengagement due to COVID-19, the 2021 Sons of the West program continued to break through stigma and persuade men to focus on their health and wellbeing. This year, 395 males participated in the ten-week program with 63% attending the program for the first time.
Running since 2013, Sons of the West aims to promote health and prevent disease in men aged 18+ who are living or working in the west of Melbourne. It is a program run by the Western Bulldogs Community Foundation with support of a number of partners including Victoria University.
The program continued to reach males experiencing chronic physical and mental health conditions with sessions on physical activity, nutrition, mental health, gender equity and masculinity. The program importantly promotes pathways into local services for ongoing health support and activities such as walking groups for continued community engagement.
This year’s participants had a relatively uninterrupted program despite COVID-19. However, the final week of the program was impacted due to lockdowns, and most of the graduation sessions were held online.
Of this year’s participants, 72% had one or more health conditions. Early evaluation results from Victoria University indicate that participants’ levels of psychological distress were significantly lower by the end of the program (even in the context of COVID-19). Findings also indicate that participants felt significantly less lonely by the end of the program and that their sense of connection to community had increased.
A participant from Brimbank shared his own profound personal development:
This program is vital to my self-esteem and recovery from depression. Sons of the West makes me a better person.
– Sons of the West participant
The program ran in seven local government areas in the west and one session was delivered online.
The return to face-to-face engagement was met with enthusiasm, with this program having 81% of the cohort attending the minimum number of sessions to be eligible to graduate (at least 70%).
It also saw the return of Victoria University students undertaking placement. A total of 45 VU students from disciplines including Community Development, Exercise Science, Sports Science and Psychology contributed to program delivery while gaining valuable practical experience.
The Sons of the West program is delivered by the Western Bulldogs Community Foundation, with support from their major partner WorkSafe Victoria, along with State Government of Victoria Department of Health, Australian Multicultural Community Services, Watergardens and Victoria University. Council partners facilitated the delivery in Ballarat, Brimbank, Hobsons Bay, Maribyrnong, Melton, Sunbury and Wyndham.
The program is scheduled to be delivered again in March 2022 with details to be released early 2022.