A Central Otago initiative to get young girls into the great outdoors is gaining momentum thanks to support from Sport New Zealand.

Journeys, which “empowers girls through adventure in the outdoors”, was successfully launched as a pilot programme last summer, and gave eight youngsters a chance to explore the Alexandra area on foot and by bike.

Journeys has gained support from Sport NZ, including a mentoring and development session, which has helped the group prepare for the return of the programme this summer, co-founder Megan Longman said.

“We were selected as one of eight teams over New Zealand, out of [more than] 45, to receive this support, with the focus being development, innovation [and] support, rather than just sending money towards an established programme.”

However, the group has also been shortlisted to receive financial support from the Sport New Zealand innovation for young women fund.

The fund is designed to support innovative ideas and get young women more active.

Mrs Longman, a physiotherapist by trade, came up with the Journeys concept as a way to help young girls build self-confidence and resilience, while being supported by women.

She has since been joined by former Outward Bound instructor Kim Froggatt and scientist Penny Smale.

Although they come from different backgrounds, they share the same key focus – a passion for the outdoors, Mrs Longman said.

“We are personally passionate about the outdoors.

“It’s our passion, not our profession. We know the community, we know the environment so we feel we can drive this collaboratively to bring it together to work for our young people.”

The pilot programme was made available to girls in year 7. They spent one term focusing on mountain biking and one term specialising in on-foot adventures, including navigation and rogaining skills.

Mrs Longman said she was grateful to the people who had made it a success, including local business Bike It Now.

Outings were spent on local trails, with the intention of making it easily accessible if the youngsters wanted to return to the area with family or friends in their own time.

“We really wanted to link and connect them with their own natural environment,” Mrs Longman said.

She said the programme would return, regardless of whether or not it got selected for the Sport New Zealand innovation for young women fund.

“We can do this because we live in such a supportive community, i.e. with the Bike It Now support.”

The funding supports a government strategy to enable women and girls to realise their potential through sport and active recreation.

The strategy has three priority areas: leadership, participation, and value and visibility.

It also aims to ensure all women and girls, in all roles, are visible, feel positive about the contribution they make and value being involved in all levels of sport and active recreation.

When Journeys returns in term four, it will be open to girls in years 8-10 and will focus mainly on mountain biking.

More women are also needed to help deliver the programme.

Anyone wanting to assist, particularly women who enjoy the outdoors, will be guided and trained. An information session will also take place soon to provide people with more information.

“We feel what we think is going to make it successful is a collaboration within our community,” Mrs Longman said.

“We drive it, but it’s working with our young women, whanau, their teachers and schools.”

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