Luke Maher of Leisure Networks named Dulux Community Champion

Luke Maher of Leisure Networks took the honour of being named Dulux Community Champion at the Geelong Cats vs St Kilda Round 1 game Saturday 16th March.

This year, the Geelong Football Club have launched the Dulux Community Bay for all Home matches at GMHBA Stadium for the 2024 AFL Home & Away Season. The seats have been ‘paid forward’ by generous members and donors within our community. Each home game, the Geelong Football Club are gifting a number of seats in the dedicated Dulux Community Bay, as well as highlighting a Dulux Community Champion, who is someone who has gone above and beyond in their role (paid or volunteered), started an incredible initiative, or dedicated their service for many years and deserves to be celebrated!

Luke Maher of Leisure Networks was nominated for the incredible work he does for disability inclusion in Geelong and the region.

Read why he was nominated …

Dulux Community Champion – someone who has gone above & beyond in their role whether it be paid or volunteered, started an incredible initiative, or dedicated their service for many years & deserved to be celebrated!

Luke Maher is a champion of disability inclusion in Geelong and the region. Luke started with Leisure Networks in 202, immediately making significant strides in nurturing all abilities opportunities across multiple sporting codes.

Luke significantly progressed work in developing a local all abilities AFL competition. Since 2017, Leisure Networks had supported the Geelong Dragons in the Western Conference of FIDA. Increasing participation and interest in the Dragons made Luke consider the potential to create a local competition. In 2022, as well as a formal survey, Luke reached out to each of the players and their support networks. Through numerous conversations he came to understand what the players wanted to ensure a viable, codesigned competition. Relying on networks built up over a lifetime of footy, Luke started connecting with AFL Barwon and local clubs to identify volunteer capacity and interest, as well as liaising with Geelong’s specialist schools to recruit players.

April 2023 saw the culmination of these efforts when the inaugural game of the AFL Barwon All Abilities League was played at Kardinia Park Stadium, home of the region’s beloved Geelong Cats. Luke has continued to support the four teams, ensuring the sustainability of the competition which enters its second year in 2024.

Meanwhile, Luke has been doing extensive work across the Barwon region to make AAA footy accessible to all ages. Alongside AFL Barwon, he provides support to local AAA Aus Kick programs, and, at Newcomb Power Football & Netball Club, Leisure Networks has been integral in helping develop “Power Kick,” a world first way of coaching footy for young people living with disability aged 9 through to 16, providing a full pathway for people with disability from Aus Kick through to seniors. 

Luke has also been integral in supporting AFL Barwon Netball to extend the all abilities netball season to include summer (as well as winter), and supporting teams representing Barwon Region All Abilities at the State Netball Titles two years in a row. To support the players and coaches, Luke applied for a grant from Geelong Connected Communities on behalf of Leisure Networks, which helped pay for uniforms and other costs. Alongside his wife Anna, Luke helped coach the teams and accompany them to the State Finals.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Luke soon turned his attention to Basketball, one of the fastest growing participation sports in Australia, with more than 10,000 participants in Geelong alone.

“Basketball is huge,” said Luke. “We’ve been watching it just grow and grow in popularity throughout Geelong, so it makes sense that our all abilities players want to get in on it too.”

In the spirit of inclusion that drives Luke and Leisure Networks, he and the team began working with Geelong United Basketball (GUB), local clubs and the disability community to create a competition suitable for players of all abilities. The Geelong United All Abilities Basketball competition was launched in October 2023 for players aged over 14 years with seven teams across five clubs, and there is already a waiting list coming into the winter season!

Further development is taking place at the four specialist schools in the region, where Luke has again reached out to his networks to facilitate development programs and Gala Days, supported by AFL Barwon, Cricket Victoria and Geelong United Basketball. These events bring students from the four schools together for a day of friendly competition and connection, as well as providing pathways for young people living with disability to pursue their love of sport. 

Last year, on behalf of Leisure Networks and alongside Edward Wilson, representing AFL Barwon, Luke proudly accepted the trophy for the Sport and Recreation Victoria Sport Initiative of the Year at the Disability Sport & Recreation Awards. This prized accolade was awarded to the two organisations in recognition of their work in establishing and facilitating the AFL Barwon All Abilities League. Both Leisure Networks and AFL Barwon were also nominated Inclusive Communities Award at the 2023 National Disability Awards.

Luke was possibly even prouder when just a year earlier, Archer, one of the Geelong Dragons players, nominated Luke for the City of Greater Geelong’s Two of Us exhibition. This exhibition was put on as part of the City’s annual celebration of International Day of People with Disability (December 3rd) to highlight the importance of friendships, relationships, and community connection for people with a disability.

Archer and Luke first got to know each other through the Geelong Dragons FIDA Football teams. “Luke supports me to do my favourite thing which is playing footy,” said Archer.

When Archer and his mum Peta asked Luke to be involved, he admitted he almost had a tear. “It is people like Archer that make it easy to come to work. He has an infectious smile that you can only help to smile back.”

In 2022, Luke was also honoured when Sam Moorfoot, Geelong Cats water boy, asked Luke to partner with him to participate in the Big Freeze Geelong.

Luke always goes above and beyond his role as program coordinator at Leisure Networks to put inclusion front and centre in the hearts of Geelong’s sporting communities. His empathy and the skills to bring projects to life have significant, long-lasting impact on so many people living with disability, as well as helping shape a more inclusive region. He is a true community champion!


Leisure Networks respectfully acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands and waters of Australia. We are committed to inclusive communities.