7 July 2022

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Using bats and balls to boost community links in Dandenong

Bishop Paul Barker, St Albans All Saints NPL player Hakeem al-Araibi and participants get some futsal practice at the opening of St James’ multipurpose sports court. Picture: Janine Eastgate.

Jenan Taylor

17 May 2022

A Dandenong church is growing its community connections with a revamped, newly opened sports facility.

The overhaul of an old tennis court at St James’ Dandenong was the first in a number of renovations planned by the church.

Once paved with a crumbling asphalt surface, the court now has new fences, a new synthetic pitch marked with zones that allow it to be used for a variety of ball sports, and new equipment to match.

But St James’ assistant curate Reverend Michael Kicevski said the multipurpose court was also the first step towards opening to the neighbourhood.

Mr Kicevksi said it was about demonstrating that the St James’ parish wanted to collapse boundaries and be there for the local population, not just itself.

He said Dandenong’s large multicultural community had an affinity with sports such as basketball and soccer or futsal, so the facility was a way for St James’ to show their support of those preferences.

Another goal, Mr Kicevksi said, was to help people in the area who might feel disengaged to connect in with the St James’ community.

“It’s not just to provide a court, but to actually be here and provide soccer balls and basket balls, and to have people from the parish connect with them as well. So that’s the plan, and the hope and prayer.”

User group, community recreation organisation Reclink Australia, said people they engaged with in the area found the refreshed court “a real drawcard”.

Reclink Australia sport coordinator David Marsh said they had run a program in the space for almost four years and the court’s resurfaced synthetic turf and being able to use it for a sport like basketball or futsal was particularly appealing.

Participants shoot some hoops at the St James’ multipurpose sports court. Photo: Reclink Australia.

Mr Marsh said their participants who included marginalised and disadvantaged members of the community often had difficult stories, and that being able to participate in a sports program gave them a brief window to not think about their individual circumstances.

“It’s just very casual, lets them have a bit of fun and lets them be a bit more active than they would usually be,” he said.

The group’s participants usually played a round of basketball or soccer, or whatever ball sport they preferred at the premises just prior to St James’ weekly community meal in a bid to help keep community members active, Mr Marsh said.

He had noted that they particularly loved the new equipment including the basketball hoop, which was adjustable and easy to use.

He said being able to use sports venues like the one at St James’ free of charge meant Reclink could avoid exorbitant venue hire fees.

“It allows us to run more programs. It just means it can remain free and longer lasting for those participants and breaks down the barriers for those disadvantaged and disengaged in the community,” Mr Marsh said.

Mr Kicevski said members of St James’ South Sudanese youth group also liked to shoot a few hoops and kick some goals when they gathered at the church.

Other users, he said, included members of the public who simply were in a need of a space for a bat of cricket or to play basketball, and a futsal coach who was also keen to use the facility to help his group get in some extra training.

A futsal enthusiast himself, Mr Kicevski was particularly pleased with the inclusion of futsal nets in the space.

He said that as futsal was about skill rather than physical ability, it was a game that was accessible to people of all ages. “So, the great thing about being able to have both basketball and futsal here is that everyone can get involved, get connected and have some fun and stay out of trouble,” Mr Kicevski said.

He said there were other sport venues in the area, but they were all almost always being used, especially when the weather was good or during summer holidays.

Since the court had re-opened people had gradually become aware of it, he said. Those who wanted to use it simply dropped by the parish office and asked for the key.

“We’d open it up for them and then just hang around with them, and get to know them a bit,” Mr Kicevski said.

He said the church hoped to make more connections with the users once there was more consistency, and then perhaps invite them along to bible studies or to a monthly outreach focused service.

“It’s a more laid back, contemporary service. It’s open to everyone and doesn’t assume that they’re going to know about this or that or why are we doing all these fancy things that happen in the morning service,” he said. “It’s about us just saying, “Hey, we want you to know Jesus”, and inviting them along to that.”

The overhaul has been supported by grants from the Melbourne Anglican Foundation and the Rotary Club of Greater Dandenong and Endeavour Hills, among others. Plans for the multipurpose sports court include landscaping, amphitheatre style seating for spectators and a car park.

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