When Australia entered the first lockdown in March 2020 due to COVID-19, the Y had to rapidly change the way in which we interacted with our communities and how we provided our services. That's why we launched Virtual Y.
Prior to COVID-19, the majority of the Y’s programs and services across aquatics, camping, children’s programs, recreation and youth services were delivered face-to-face.
The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) provided $1.6 million in funding for the Y to support the physical and mental wellbeing of young Victorians at a time when young people needed it most.
With the grant from the DHHS, the Y launched Virtual Y – a free, interactive online platform that brings YMCA products, programs and services into the living rooms of all Victorians (not just existing customers or participants).
Virtual Y offers everything from online group fitness classes to virtual camping adventures, and perhaps most importantly, an online youth space where young people can learn and connect with their community. The platform also shares interactive sessions on our social media channels, such as Y-Solation – a weekly live stream that aims to help young people stay connected during lockdown.
When the platform launched in June 2020, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive and registrations steadily grew. However, as the pandemic continued and Victoria entered a second lockdown, the Virtual Y team ensured that the content was relevant and connected to users.
There’s so much on offer at the moment, so we need to make our content meaningful for our customers and the broader community to combat digital fatigue.” Fiona Kriaris
Fiona is a Health and Wellness Product Manager at the Y and supported the launch of the fitness side of the platform.
That’s why after launching the platform our focus shifted to getting customer data and responding to it. Since the beginning of October, we’ve tracked our content and so far we’ve delivered more than 90,000 sessions and over 9,000 people have registered in the last 12 weeks, across Australia and in fact the world.” Fiona Kriaris
By responding to customer needs, Virtual Y is actively supporting the mental and physical wellbeing of its users, with 83% of people saying Virtual Y helped keep them active during lockdown and 81% saying the platform supported their mental health and wellbeing.
I have loved the online fitness classes during COVID-19. As a person who lives alone, they have not only helped my physical fitness but also my mental wellbeing. As a shift worker I have been able to do classes every day which I have not been able to do at the YMCA due to the times they are run.” Virtual Y user
The Y is committed to ensuring our programs and services are accessible and inclusive for all. An ongoing review and evaluation process that assesses accessibility against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines is in place for Virtual Y. Within weeks of its launch, the platform was assessed as being 70% compliant with an AA rating. We continue to work towards a 100% rating, ensuring Virtual Y is accessible to everybody including people with disabilities.
Virtual Y will continue to expand and evolve over the coming months. Not only have YMCA customers reaped the benefits from the online programming, but also people in regional areas and those who don’t live close to one of the Y’s physical spaces are benefiting from the content.
What's been happening at the Y
In May 2020, Y associations across the country banded together to warn against the impacts of COVID-19 on young people, launching the #YWeAreHere campaign.
As always, we have many stories to tell. From the tragedy of the bushfires, to hosting a successful Queer Soiree at Carlton Baths, to launching Virtual Y in the face of COVID-19 lockdowns - it's been a big year.