Partnership offers equal access to positive benefits of physical activity

29 April 2019

Everyone should have the same opportunities to be physically well.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

In recent years, Sport Wellington has been trying to rectify this by providing opportunities, education, and capability-building to key partners and communities where positive health and wellbeing outcomes are traditionally not equitably achieved.

One particular way Sport Wellington has done this is by supporting the Early Intervention Service team of clinicians at the Capital and Coast District Health Board (CCDHB.) These clinicians provide support to young people aged 13 – 25 who have experienced their first psychosis episode.

 “With thanks to Sport Wellington, the Early Intervention Service (EIS) has been able to provide weekly activity group sessions to our clients for almost six years,” said Julia Fitzgerald, Occupational Therapist, CCDHB. “These sessions provide an important opportunity for our clients with enduring mental illness to participate in sports and physical activities they may not typically have access to.”

Clients of EIS face serious mental and physical health challenges, including depression, anxiety, weight-gain, cardiovascular problems, and decreased motivation.

Prior to 2018, Sport Wellington’s Healthy Lifestyles team delivered weekly physical activity sessions to EIS clients at the ASB Sports Centre. The sessions addressed the wider determinants of health for traditional non-participants (and often isolated individuals), specific to mental health.

 “The Sport Wellington activity programme plays a crucial part in improving clients’ physical fitness and well-being,” Julia said. “It helps them to build confidence and self-esteem, and most importantly, enables them to make valued social connections.”

The sessions were effective because they broke games/sports into manageable activities that were easily applied to a range of skill sets. People felt like they were able to progress with a new skill and be included.


In early 2018, members of Sport Wellington’s Healthy Lifestyles and Community Sport teams facilitated a physical literacy (theory) session with the team of clinicians at EIS. This session was a chance to upskill the clinicians, so they could deliver similar sessions themselves. It came from both a change in staffing at Sport Wellington and an observation that the clinicians themselves know their clients best. They understand a client’s needs, likes, and dislikes in a way Sport Wellington staff never could.

These workshops developed the confidence of clinical team members to run activity group sessions and adapt these to match the varying needs of our clients, while still focusing on having fun,” Julia said.

Sport Wellington staff then held a practical, follow-up session in April that utilised a modified coach developer approach to equip clinicians with a toolkit of games and modified sports they could use to facilitate sessions with groups of young people.

The increase in our staffs’ confidence has inspired some of our clients to feel comfortable enough to lead parts of the sessions, such as warm-up games and cool-down stretches,” Julia said.

In the last year Sport Wellington have continued to work with clinicians and staff at CCDHB to develop systems that allow for young people to access the positive benefits of sport and active recreation; in particular, the benefits physical activity/movement provides to support mental health/wellbeing.

“The Thursday Activity Group is an important item on the calendar for many of our younger people,” Julia said. “It has been so popular, it is often over-subscribed. When asked about their opinion, our clients identify Activity Group as their ‘favourite part of the service,’ the ‘highlight of their week,’ and the ‘only reason to leave the house’ and they express their disappointment if the Activity Group is cancelled on the rare occasion.” 

To find out more about the Equally Well movement, go to the website. Equally Well is a group of people and organisations with the common goal of reducing physical health disparities between people who experience mental health and addiction conditions, and people who don’t.

Find out more about Health and Wellness