‘We’re working with some incredible people’


Waikato unemployed are being helped into work through a pilot programme that draws on the experience of elite sport in Australia.

The programme, established by Hamilton brother and sister team Scott and Toni-Anne Lee, has a focus on health and wellbeing, and is supported by the Ministry of Social Development.

The Change Within is currently working with its first intake of 20 participants.

It incorporates elements of The Change Room, an Australian programme founded by former Warriors coach Matt Elliott and John Daley which is based on Elliott’s rugby league background.

Scott says Elliott’s career included overcoming an autoimmune disease through diet, after he talked to rugby league star Anthony Minichiello, who had developed nutrition and exercise techniques to recover from spinal injuries. The Change Room’s focus is on getting people who have been injured back to work, using mentors including elite sportspeople – Elliott and Minichiello among them.

Scott and Toni-Anne Lee are using the same principles, but have adapted the programme to work with unemployed participants.

Toni-Anne, who returned from a nine year stint in Australia just before Covid lockdown, had done some work with The Change Room.

“They’ve got a course that they do to help people to overcome injury, to get their mindset right to build themselves before they try and build their life,” Scott says.

“And that’s what we’ve brought to New Zealand, is that programme using the high performance athletes, and mentors to the high performance athletes, to help those who have either lost their job or are still looking for a job.”

Toni-Anne says the approach has eight foundations including movement, exercise, breathing, sleeping and connection.

“It’s looking at all of those aspects,” she says. “If you are getting the right amount of sleep, eating the right foods, moving your body, then technically everything else should run in alignment.”

For some, the challenge might be to get their driver’s licence, Toni-Anne says. For others it might be about seeing their way clear to getting a job, or having the self-belief to take on a role that they never thought was possible.

Scott says it’s about making 1 percent gains every day, which can be as simple as taking steps like getting out of bed earlier in the morning.

The 12 week course starts with Toni-Anne and Scott taking participants through the Australian side of the programme, and then coaching them for six weeks.

The intention is that by the end of the course participants will have made changes that mean they are either in work, or seeking work, or potentially that they are going on to higher education. The Ministry will judge the programme’s success according to employment outcomes. “There is a health and wellbeing component to it, which is what the current Government wants. But the key measurement is employment,” Scott says. “Employment outcomes or higher education.”

Some on the first intake had already landed job interviews five weeks in, Toni-Anne says, while several were looking to get into higher education.

One of those to gain a job is Destiny Wetere, who says she joined the programme because she wanted to make changes in her life. “I was looking for a programme like this to help me.”

The goal setting element has been useful, and she says Toni-Anne has been really helpful with structuring things.

They have been meeting weekly at a cafe, which is likely to continue now she has a job, and she says Toni-Anne calls as well to check on how she is going. “So I’ve been able to make those changes daily in my life.”

Scott and Toni-Anne expect the relationship with participants to last a further six months after the course ends.

“We’re actually working with some really incredible people,” Toni-Anne says. “And all it takes often is somebody believing in them, for them to go, ‘Oh, actually, I can do that’. And seeing they are transferable skills. Rather than just going, ‘you’ve worked in this area so that’s all you can ever do’, saying, ‘What actually makes your heart sing? What  do you ultimately want to get into?’ And then trying to work your way there.”


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