It was the mid-1980’s and self-confessed netball nut, Robyn Hanson, was approached by the family of a young woman with Down syndrome, who had been keen to join a local club.
“Although it seems hard to believe now, she’d been refused” says Robyn.
“The club had basically said that they felt she would slow everyone else down — that they really didn’t know what they could do with her — I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing”.
Shocked at this injustice, Robyn made enquiries about what opportunities were available for Tasmanians with disability to participate in sport. She was taken aback at the reality of just how few there really were.
Working at the time with the Tasmanian Department of Sport and Recreation, Robyn (with her colleague Ted Gleeson — more about Ted later!) set about pitching the idea for a sport club for people with disability. Their aim was to allow members to get physically active, learn new skills and most importantly, play at their own pace, without pressure. The Tasmanian Government agreed to fund a trial in Launceston, and in 1986, New Horizons Club was born.
Now one of Australia’s leading inclusive sport and recreation providers, New Horizons quickly became a link for local people with disability to be able to access dynamic, inclusive sport and recreational activities.
“Our initial model was volunteer-based due to a very tight budget, but this turned out to be what made our programs so successful” says Robyn.
“We partnered with local sport clubs for quite a few of our programs, and the volunteers were all so passionate and were there because they really wanted to be — it meant that the atmosphere quickly became very supportive , like an extended family”.
As more and more people joined New Horizons, the number of volunteers grew, as friends and family members were keen to help out too.
In 1996 a satellite branch began operations in Scottsdale, then one based in started in Wynyard in 2015. All the while, New Horizons headquarters in Launceston fielded (and continue to do so) multiple calls a week from individuals, families and carers from around the state, enquiring about when New Horizons may possibly start up in their town.
“We know there is such unmet need — we really hope to be able to be represented in all regions at some stage” says current CEO, Belinda Kitto, who has been with the organisation for 13 years.
In 2018 New Horizons were awarded a Commonwealth Bank community grant of $150,000 over 3 years to begin part-time operations in Hobart,
After being known as New Horizons Club for more than thirty years (or simply ‘the club’ to so many members), New Horizons changed its name in 2018 to New Horizons Tasmania to reflect this long-wished for expansion to Hobart.
Since, the team of core staff and volunteers have continued to deliver dynamic programs and plenty of social occasions and awesome outcomes through the blue skies as well as wind, hail and fire (ha- ok, critical funding issues- not unusual for a for-purpose organisation!). Along the way we have had athletes join mainstream sporting clubs, represent their State and Country, make new friends, build their confidence, improve their fitness, and together we have had SO much fun.
And — what about the wonderful late Ted Gleeson, mentioned earlier? Approximately 10 years after helping to set up New Horizons Club, Ted welcomed a beautiful new grandson, who became a New Horizons member himself, and Ted in his retirement became a much-loved volunteer 🙂
As the world becomes more inclusive, we hope there will be less and less need for organisations like New Horizons. In the meantime though, we intend to be there, helping to contribute to making our community more equitable, and having a great time while we do it!
Join up, get active, have fun and meet new friends. Improve your health AND your wellbeing!
If you’re a sports lover and would be interested in volunteering with New Horizons.
If you’re keen to try something new, or master your passion.