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Special Interest Speech: LAUNCESTON SCHOOL FOR SENIORS

Mrs ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Madam President, my special interest speech today regards the Launceston School for Seniors. For the past 31 years the Launceston School for Seniors has been a vital part of the community. The idea was conceived by a local adult education officer, Robert Waldron, who learned of similar programs in other parts of Australia - places where senior citizens could participate in a wide range of courses and activities to keep them active. The original brochure read: School for Seniors, a living and learning centre for mature-aged students. Are you a mature aged adult interested in keeping your brain ticking over and looking for an informal adult learning environment? Then the school for seniors may be for you.

From humble beginnings the Launceston School for Seniors has flourished into a vibrant community organisation. The vision was to get people out of their homes and back into the community by providing a place to mix with other like-minded people in a social atmosphere. When the school first opened in 1981 it attracted 36 people and 10 activities were offered. Over the years this has grown to 570 enrolled members and 86 volunteer tutors and committee members. Term 2 this year offers 61 courses. As well as the 55 classes conducted each week over a 30-week period, there are summer activities consisting of coach trips, picnics and summer school.

Other activities are the publishing of the annual colour magazine to which many members contribute. Photography groups produce a selection of calendars that are reprinted on the school's colour copier and sold for a modest profit, which contributes to their overall income. There is an end of year luncheon where work from some of the classes is showcased. All of this contributes to the ongoing welfare of senior citizens of Launceston and the wider northern Tasmanian community. This would not be possible if it was not for the contributions of volunteers who put in their time, energy, and diversified skills to make the Launceston School for Seniors the great success it is today.

Term 2 this year offers wide and varied courses including computers, photography, French for beginners, creative writing, Scottish country dancing, gardening, community singing, and pottery, and the list is growing all the time. Members, for their $35 per term, are able to take as many classes as they wish. Chairman Barry Lumley says that expenses for the school are kept relatively low because it is completely volunteer-based. I think that is important, particularly for our senior citizens.

To inform the public about the school there is a dedicated internet website and pamphlets are distributed in places like doctors surgeries, the library and Centrelink, and there is also word of mouth. There is a monthly newsletter to keep members informed. Registration day for term 1 this year saw a record 460 people turn up, including 120 new members. Mr Lumley says that the school has become a vital part of the lives of senior citizens because it gives them the motivation and discipline to remain active in the community. I am sure it also helps to keep them much healthier as well. He says that some of the original members from 1981 still attend the school, which gives some idea of the retention rate.

When you walk into the Launceston School for Seniors you cannot help but notice the positive atmosphere and the smiling faces and the enthusiasm and their zest for life. Many of the members have come from the mainland and they say that when they arrived in Launceston they knew no-one, but the school has been a godsend.

They say that they have been able to blend into the lifestyle, have made lifelong friendships and learnt new skills. Not only does this apply to people new to Tasmania but to those who have lost loved ones, those who have retired from the workforce, those who need a new challenge in life, or those whose children have simply left the nest and they are looking for new activities and new interests. One gentleman said he learnt about school for seniors from a next-door neighbour. He says that initially he was reluctant to go along but after much prompting finally decided to attend and see what the school offered. The subject that he signed up for was creative writing. He says that it was a life-changing decision and he would be signing up for term 2.

The Launceston School for Seniors not only has all these benefits, but no doubt contributes to the health and wellbeing of its members by continuing to keep their minds and bodies active, which is one way of taking pressure off our health system.

One of the big advantages of the Launceston School for Seniors, located at 8 High Street, is the ease of access. There are no steps or steep inclines, which makes it ideal for senior citizens. The single-storey access at High Street is important where equipment such as a television, DVD players, projection equipment, et cetera, can easily be moved between the rooms as required by the tutors presenting different subjects. There is off-street parking but the larger classes have put a strain on the number of places available. So, in addition to spaces on site, there are a number of free three-hour spaces as well as some longer-term spaces in High Street and adjacent streets, and an economical all-day car park in close walking distance off Clarence Street, which really makes the site in High Street ideal for the Launceston School for Seniors.

There is a song From Little Things Big Things Grow and this more than sums up the Launceston School for Seniors.

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