Community collaboration and innovation lead to state award for Red Cliffs youth-driven project

A youth-driven project that brought the heart back to Red Cliffs has taken out a state-based award at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne.

The Free Youth Pool Entry Pilot program was driven by young people seeking a safe, affordable and accessible place to meet and socialise in Red Cliffs.

It prompted a collaborative youth-led push by Hands Up Mallee, Mildura Rural City Council and Aligned Leisure to come up with a solution.

The result was the groundbreaking Free Youth Pool Entry Pilot, which provided free access to the Red Cliffs Swimming Pool for young people 17 and under, including activities and events for young people during the school holidays.

It led to a significant and sustained increase in community usage of the Red Cliffs Swimming Pool, at times spiking to more than 3,000 visitors in just one month, and has since been successfully trialled in Merbein.

The project has just taken out the VIC/TAS Community Based Initiative of the Year Award at the 2024 Parks and Leisure Australia Awards for Excellence.

Benefits of the project included:

  • free access to a public facility for young people
  • access to a safe place for youth to meet over the school holidays, increasing community participation and connectedness
  • empowering youth to design and lead activities for young people


Mildura Mayor Liam Wood, who was heavily involved from the start, said the breakthrough project was a community success story.

“More than anything this amazing project shows the power of young people’s ideas and the importance of listening to our youth and our community,” Cr Wood said.

“It’s these ideas that have driven and made this project a reality.

“It also demonstrates the positive and close working relationships between key agencies and young people in our community and what can be achieved by working together.”

The collaboration involved the Hands Up Mallee team developing the project model, working closely with young people to design and lead activities, as well as Council’s Youth Engagement Services Team.

Aligned Leisure, which manages Council’s swimming pools, also played a key role providing access to facilities and staff throughout the program.

Hands Up Mallee Executive Officer Jane McCracken said the success of the pilot project demonstrated the valuable role of public facilities as community assets.

“Public pools are really important community assets, particularly in small regional areas,” Ms McCracken said.

“We know when we remove barriers to access and enable youth to lead activation events, pools can also play an enormous role in social outcomes for young people and communities.

“This initiative demonstrates that enabling young people to lead the activation of these spaces, and removing barriers to access, benefits the entire community.”

Aligned Leisure’s Mildura Manager Caitlin Simmons said her team found the Pilot a rewarding experience to be a part of.

Seeing the number of young people and their families flooding through the gates each day was really exciting, especially when we listened to people’s stories and learned that without this Pilot they would have missed out on enjoying a summer by the pool. An award like this is truly a win for our community and a valuable reward for effort to the many dedicated and thoughtful community members who helped bring the idea to life.

Caitlin Simmons, Mildura Aquatic Facilities Manager

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