What a curveball 2020 has been. The pandemic has had enormous repercussions across the world, from the devastating public health effects, economic downturns and mental health struggles. Here at the Y, each of our sectors has been significantly impacted by COVID-19, but in different ways.

YMCA Australia: We're still here

Overall at YMCA Victoria

A major effect of the pandemic was that we had to reduce our physical services. Being in lockdown for months meant that we had to find new ways of reaching our young people and the communities we serve. As part of this effort, we launched Virtual Y and released the #YWeAreHere campaign.

Due to our reduction in services, 90% of our staff (permanent and casual) were stood down or de-rostered - this reached 5,054 out of 5,582 in May, 2020. At the time of writing (November 2020), the number of staff who have returned to work has reached 2,700 and rising. Many staff who have remained working throughout the pandemic worked reduced hours during lockdown. Thankfully, during this time many of our staff were supported by JobKeeper. Of those who have been stood back up, 115 were reinstated to work on Virtual Y (funded by the Victorian Government).

Here's how each of our sectors were affected by COVID-19:

  • Camps

    YMCA Victoria proudly manages a total of seven camps - five camps in Victoria on behalf of the State Government of Victoria including: Anglesea Recreation Camp, Camp Manyung, Howmans Gap Alpine Centre, Lady Northcote Recreation Camp and Mt Evelyn Recreation Camp. We also manage Phillip Island Coastal Discovery Camp, and our very own Lake Dewar Lodge.

    Our camps deliver programs to over 82,000 Victorians every year, 70% of which are school aged children. This year has not been an easy one for our campsites, with closures beginning even before COVID-19 due to direct fire threats or smoke haze during the summer bushfires.

    In March, all campsites closed again, with regional sites only reopening in October and metropolitan sites to follow.

    Sport and Recreation Victoria management contract

    We have been operating five camps on behalf of the Victorian Government for the past 15 years and are thrilled to have been awarded the renewed long-term contract until 2041!

    This news could not have come at a better time - in the middle of lockdown with all campsites closed. We are so pleased to have secured the management contract and the opportunity to support school groups and communities as we reopen and recover from COVID-19 closures.

    With so many children missing out on camp experiences this year, we cannot wait to welcome children back to YMCA Camps and provide outdoor recreation, adventure and opportunities to connect to the environment, their friends and themselves once again in 2021 and beyond.

    How we adapted

    With all campsites closed for the first time in history, our camps teams had to get creative. How could we continue to provide camping experiences virtually?

    Our wonderful teams launched the Outdoors and the Environment section on Virtual Y to keep children engaged at home and in the classroom. With features like a virtual walk through the YMCA Anglesea Recreation Camp’s Indigenous Trail or how to create your own map – the online education enabled children to keep engaged with outdoor and environmental education at camp. All the while supporting the Learning Framework delivered to each group at YMCA Camps.

    Road to recovery

    Our camps provide the opportunity for people to connect over multiple days, participating in activities that promote fun and healthy interactions that create skills and bonds for life.

    We are confident that camps will rebound strongly, with many of our metro customer groups holding onto their bookings until the last minute in case restrictions had eased so they could attend. Where restrictions had not eased, they were quick to rebook to another date to ensure their groups could get back together at camp.

    Our customers continue to tell us that attending camp is important for their groups to connect, rebuild their support networks and cultivate a sense of belonging.

    As with most parts of the Y, our camps have struggled with the closures, but we continue to focus on reopening and reconnecting our people and our communities.


  • Children's Programs

    Our essential service throughout the pandemic was YMCA Children’s Programs. It goes without saying that our passionate educators have had a tough year, working as essential workers in a challenging environment. The support they provided and continue to provide to families has been second to none, and each and every Children’s Programs employee should be proud.

    We operate over 70 early childhood education and care services. Of these, we have 18 Early Learning Centres, 27 Before and After School Programs and 28 School Holiday Programs. In the last financial year, 228,613 children attended our services. In addition, we manage the the hiring of community spaces at 11 local partner primary schools.

    During COVID-19, we temporarily closed two Early Learning Centres and five Outside School Hours Care programs due to a positive COVID-19 test. All sites were back open and safely operating within a week of the closure.

    How we adapted

    Our amazing educators provided remote learning to children staying home, through tools like Zoom and Story Park.

    Within the centres, we adapted to the new COVID-normal, with temperature checking, limiting people on site, and the ceasing of incursions and excursions.

    Our advocacy

    The Y became a founding member of the newly created Outside School Hours Council of Australia to advocate for the OSHC industry.

    We also advocated to both the State and Federal Government for financial relief when JobKeeper ended for the sector.

    Support we received

    The government's Early Childhood Education and Care relief package supported both our Early Learning Centres and OSHC programs, as well as the Transitional Payment Package and the additional viability support payment.

    We also received the following support:

    • Community Child Care Fund – Special Circumstance Grant
    • JobKeeper (until it ended for this sector)
    • Recovery Package
    • Vacation Care Grant.

    We are incredibly thankful for the support we received for our Children’s Programs, without it we would not have been in a position to provide important child care services for families. With all this support, we have been able to survive the year and while we saw a reduction in occupancy during lockdowns, we are seeing occupancy levels rise as we transition to COVID-normal.


  • Disability services

    At the Y, we strive to ensure programs and services across all of our sectors are inclusive and accessible for people with disabilities.
    We also own and operate a specialist Disability Services Adult Day Centre in Macey Heights, and run respite and camping programs. Combined, these programs deliver over 190,000 hours of direct support to people with disabilities and their carers each year.

    COVID-19 lockdown measures in March meant the closure of community venues, meaning we were unable to offer our community-based and camping programs. Similarly, social distancing and self-isolating measures impacted the demand for and our ability to provide specific services. This resulted in the temporary cessation of our services.

    When restrictions began to ease in June, we began to transition back to services, with focus on services provided at the Adult Day Centre. At that stage, the community-based facilities and campsites we access remained closed, as did our in-home services.

    How we adapted

    Our teams were extremely quick to adapt and establish ways they could continue to engage and support participants at home.

    The team at Macey Heights developed and introduced ‘Virtual MaceY’ – where participants are able to directly Zoom into the daily activities at the centre, connect with their peers and join in on a range of programs. This service has been received extremely well with near 70% of participants who were not physically at the centre engaging virtually. All have indicated they are keen to recommence full services as soon as possible; with many indicating they would like a mix of face to face and virtual program options in the future.

    Our camping team developed a virtual camping and connection program – delivered through Virtual Y and aimed at keeping our campers connected with each other and our staff team throughout lockdown. This has been very welcomed and hugely successful with 100% of our camper participating in one or more of these virtual sessions.

    Road to recovery

    We are taking a phased approach to the reinstatement of services, with prioritisation given to our Adult Day Centre participants with more complex behavioural and support needs. Approximately 50% of staff have been able to return to work so far, with the other 50% remaining on stand-down. We have an extensive COVID-Safe plan in place and are confident that the phasing will continue as community facilities open and we can recommence community, camping and in home programing.


  • Kingswim

    We operate 20 Kingswim sites across Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and Canberra. Before COVID-19, the number of swimmers enrolled peaked at 29,300 in February 2020. All Victorian centres have been closed since 23 March, which means approximately 14,500 swimmers haven’t been able to attend their lessons for the majority of the year. Additionally, no school swimming lessons have run since Term 1, 2020.

    Fortunately, centres were able to reopen in New South Wales, Queensland and Canberra in June and July 2020. This has seen 6,430 swimmers return to the pool, with occupancy levels continuing to increase and feedback on safety and hygiene has been very positive. Our interstate sites have also completed two school holiday programs since reopening.

    We've had no confirmed cases within any Kingswim site, and therefore no closures since reopening.

    How we adapted

    Our Kingswim team launched an online ‘Activity Hub’ for at-home activities and resources for swimmers and families.

    We created an online training module for Swim Teacher Accreditation.

    We adapted to changing COVID-19 restrictions, with operational measures such as temperature scanning, QR codes for contact tracing purposes and continuous cleaning being implemented.

    When sites reopened, we extended our operating hours to allow for density limits and to meet the demand for swimming lessons.

    Our advocacy

    Kingswim are represented on the newly formed Victorian Aquatic Industry Alliance, which advocates for governments to focus on the importance of swimming lessons and the heightened risk of increasing drowning as we head into summer.

    Road to recovery

    Since reopening in the start of Term 3, interstate centres have grown a collective 1,017 new swimmers (growth of 16%) and centres are currently now back to an average of 87% of pre-COVID enrolments.

  • Recreation

    The recreation sector in Victoria is one of the hardest hit in the country. It has been a long and challenging road for our recreation staff, some of whom have not worked since March.

    Lockdown 1.0

    In March 2020, at the beginning of the first lockdown, every Y-managed recreation site (55 sites across 22 local government areas – excluding seasonal outdoor facilities) was closed immediately and completely.

    Restart 1.0

    A few months later in June, we were able to open in Victoria for a brief period as lockdown restrictions lifted. 29 centres opened under tight government restrictions including maximum group sizes and density quotients. This included pools for lap swimming, group fitness, health and wellness, tennis and skate parks. Stadiums remained closed, as did gymnastics, community halls, crèches and cafés within our facilities.

    Lockdown 2.0

    When lockdown 2.0 happened in early July, all Victorian sites were closed again.

    Restart 2.0

    As of November 2020, we are in Rec Restart 2.0 with restrictions slowly lifting. Outdoor pools and outdoor fitness were the first to reopen, with different restrictions across metro Melbourne and regional Victoria.

    Meanwhile in South Australia...

    The Y-managed South Australian Aquatic and Leisure Centre was the first pool to reopen in South Australia, first with squad swimming and swimming lessons, then health and wellness and fitness groups. SAALC has remained open throughout the pandemic and has more than 50% of swim lessons and memberships reactivated.

    Customer demand

    As pools reopened, we experienced extremely high demand from our customers. We implemented an online booking system, requiring customers to pre-book before coming in to swim laps, and ensuring we could manage capacity limits. At times pools booked out within minutes of calendars being released. Occupancy has been at 100% across very limited spaces, which has both been fantastic to see and challenging as many people missed out initially.

    As density limits relax, customer anxiety has reduced as more spaces have become available, making it easier to secure a booking.

    How we adapted

    We found ways to pivot to online fitness, most notably on our Virtual Y platform, where our fitness instructors tried their hand at delivering classes to the camera for the first time. Customer feedback has been that Virtual Y has enabled members to continue a routine with the Y instructors they know and love.

    Before this, we partnered with Les Mills On Demand to provide free access for all Y recreation members, as well as staff and volunteers across Australia. This led to 25,000 registrations, 15,000 of which were in Victoria.

    When centres reopened, we implemented new COVID-safe measures to ensure all our visitors feel safe. We have also made significant changes to timetabling across sites providing the most popular classes to meet customer demand.

    Our advocacy

    The Y has been involved in a lot of advocacy for the recreation industry throughout COVID-19. Through the Victorian Aquatic Industry Alliance (which included Swimming Victoria, Aquatic and Recreation Victoria and Fitness Australia), we advocated for a clearer path to recovery for our industry. Partnering with other organisations in the recreation industry has meant we have an aligned and supportive voice at the decision making tables.

    Support we received

    JobKeeper has been of enormous support for our recreation staff and has meant we can pass on the benefit to our council partners. It has also enabled us to progressively bring back staff who are receiving JobKeeper to work on planning and development to prepare for reopening.

    We also received wonderful support from our council partners, who trusted us to manage the management and operating costs of recreation centres during the closure periods.

    Road to recovery

    Gyms are one of the last areas to reopen under the government’s roadmap to recovery and we know that we will continue to operate under strict restrictions for some time. We’ve experienced high demand from customers, booking out places in group fitness and lap swimming. We must acknowledge, we will operate at a reduced capacity for some time.

    The Y would once again like to thank our recreation staff and council partners, as well as our members and casual visitors throughout this time. Despite the challenges we've had to, and will continue to, overcome, the positive attitude and support shown by you all has been incredible.

    We really look forward to the day when we can welcome back the community to our much-loved recreation centres without heavy restrictions in place, and to welcome back all of our staff who are so passionate about the recreation industry.


  • Youth Services

    Young people

    Young people are at the core of everything we do at the Y, and every one of our sectors, services and programs contributes to the impact we have on young people in a variety of ways.

    As one of the largest employers of young people in Australia, we provide employment opportunities, support and development pathways for thousands of young Victorians each year.

    Our youth programs include:

    • Youth Hubs in metropolitan and regional Victoria, where we provide hundreds of young people with a physical space, diverse programming and a range of face-to-face supports that help each young person develop ownership and control of their individual mental, physical and emotional health in order to live happy and fulfilling lives.

    • YMCA Victoria Youth Parliament, where teams from schools across Victoria are given the opportunity to stand up in Parliament and have their voices heard. The program, which includes residential learning aims to educate, empower and encourage young people to take an active role in their community by contributing the views of their electorate at a state level. As a key component to this, The Youth Parliament Press Gallery is made up of young passionate journalists who cover stories of the YMCA Victorian Youth Parliament throughout the year.

    • The EVOLVE program, a school-based program that develops Grade 6 students’ capabilities in social and emotional intelligence to support them as they prepare for Year 7.

    • YMCA Bridge Project, which supports young people who've been involved with the criminal justice system to help them get back on their feet. By working directly with young offenders at Ravenhall Prison, we provide education, support and training opportunities that help young-offenders get ready for employment. On successful completion of the program, many of these young offenders are given the opportunity to work in our social enterprise – YMCA ReBuild.

    • YMCA ReBuild is a building and maintenance social enterprise, employing disadvantaged young people who have offended or who are at risk of offending. Our dedicated managers and crew leaders work with these young people to train, mentor and supervise them – ultimately reducing recidivism and support these young people to become positive members of society.

    • Our Future Leaders program provides professional development training aimed at emerging leaders who have made a positive contribution to their local Y and are looking to develop a career within the organisation.

    • UNO-Y, aimed at 70 young staff and volunteers within YMCA Victoria each year, is an intensive program of self-reflection and personal development designed to transform amazing young people into exceptional leaders.

    When the COVID-19 lockdown measures took hold in March 2020, the majority of these programs could not continue in the face to face format they are designed for. Our Youth Services team (excluding YMCA Bridge Project and YMCA Rebuild who were able to continue to operate as an essential service) were placed on temporary stand down.

    How we adapted

    It was immediately obvious that young people stood to be some of the most heavily impacted by COVID-19, with many facing job losses, isolation, increased levels of anxiety and depression, and for some, increased risk of homelessness and self-harm. Although we were unable to continue with our programs and services as we knew them, we were very quick to establish how we could best resource and support the needs of young people in the COVID-19 environment – and as a result, our team were back to work and busier than ever as we worked to convert to virtual programming.

    In late April 2020, we were successful in obtaining $1.6m from the Victorian Government and $150k from VicHealth to establish Virtual Y an online platform delivering a range of live and on-demand youth programs, fitness, nutrition, health and wellness, skill development and family-based activities to support the mental health and wellbeing of young Victorians and the communities in which they live.

    Within six months from launch, we achieved our goal of 10,000 registrants and had delivered over 120,000 individual sessions. Our impact analysis tells us that Virtual Y is achieving its intended outcomes and successfully supported users to feel more connected, experience improved mental and physical health and reduced feelings of isolation throughout lockdowns. Throughout the lockdown period, Virtual Y gave us the opportunity to provide work to over 110 staff from across all areas of the Y. That’s 110 team members who would otherwise have been stood down – many themselves being young people.

    Our Youth Hubs joined together and leveraging Virtual Y were able to remain connected to their local young people.

    Being the essential service it is, YMCA Bridge Project and YMCA ReBuild teams continued to absolutely thrive in supporting more young people in the justice system than ever before.

    Our YMCA Victoria Youth Parliament team embraced change and converted the entire program into digital form, culminating in a 'Virtual Youth parliament', which included a 5-week online training program, online Bill development meetings and stakeholder engagement opportunities. The program came to a close with a Virtual Closing Ceremony on September 29 where 18 bills were presented to the Victorian Minister for Youth and Community Sport, the Honourable Ros Spence.

    Although a very different experience for participants and the volunteer-led taskforce, this significant achievement ensured that the 2020 cohort did not miss out on a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn about and participate in the Australian Parliamentary system on matters that are important to them.

    Our advocacy

    Through advocating for the need to support young people during the pandemic, the funding we received to deliver Virtual Y meant we were able to adapt to supporting young people virtually when face to face was not an option.

    We also participated in the YACVic roundtable with other peak youth agencies in the establishment of a COVID-19 recovery plan for young people.

    Road to recovery

    While we currently remain focussed on re-adapting Virtual Y to compliment the Y’s sectors and service offerings as they reopen, we are looking forward to re-introducing many of our face to face programs and services (and maybe even some new ones!) throughout 2021.

Our COVID-Safe commitments

Messages from our leaders