A little history of KEEN...

We've been on such an amazing adventure since our beginnings in the mid 1980's, and we'd like to think that our journey is still just beginning...! Find out more about the fascinating history of KEEN below. Some of the original KEEN participants are still coming to sessions today, so you could always ask them first hand to tell you more themselves...!

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The early days of KEEN...

KEEN's beginnings can be found in Oxford over 30 years ago. In the Autumn of 1984, a Rhodes scholar called John Simon arrived in Oxford. John had volunteered with the Special Olympics in the States, and noticing a lack of opportunity for people with special needs to take part in sports in Oxford, decided to do something about it.

The question was how to create a network a spread the word within the community, and it was at this point that John was put in touch with Krzysia Gossage, a parent of two daughters with special needs. Quickly an agreement was made that Krzysia would form a group of families and spread the word, while John focused on organising volunteers, equipment, and a venue.

The next year, what was then known as the Oxford Sports Group was born! A handful of students from New College, Oxford, gathered on weekends to throw tennis balls, and play tennis and other games with young people with disabilities. At the very first session, there were around 6-15 children in , ranging in age from 6-14 years old.





A high ratio of coaches to young people meant the session was accessible and fun for everyone. What surprised John is how much the volunteer base grew. Everyone was having such a good time, that quickly they had twice as many coaches as participants! People were making time in their weekly schedule to come, toss tennis balls, relay races, etc.

Before the end of his course and leaving for the States, John left the Oxford Sports Group in the hands of a good friend Sean Mahoney, who took an extra year to do a Masters and offered to continue the programme for another year.

After another successful year of sporting activities Sean handed over the programmes' leadership to Elliot Portnoy for its third year, another Rhodes scholar more recently in Oxford. It was in 1988, under Elliot's leadership, that KEEN came into existence out of the Oxford Sports Group, this being formalised on the 29th April 1988 in its founding document. 

Under Elliot's leadership, KEEN quickly expanded in scope and vision, and 30 years later, the group has developed from the original tennis coaching programme into an international non-profit movement that serves hundreds of young people with disabilities each week in cities around the UK and US, training over 30,000 volunteer as a result. 


The 1990's

There was also an informal social group, KEEN club, in the mid-90s, and a music and
movement session for very young children (later called Clatterpillars) ran at the Down’s Syndrome
Resource Centre by the Park Hospital from 1998 to 2004.

In the early days, a number of other KEEN-affiliated activities took place without the direct involvement of the coordinator, including swimming, horse-riding and a rowing session, which developed into Oxford Adaptive Rowing in 1998.

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The 2000's

GrEAT, our over-18s social club, officially launched in Michaelmas Term 2002, and KEEN Teens began in Hilary Term 2009.

KEEN's flagship sports session was branded AllSorts in 2003. Our creative session, Zig-Zag, was established soon after, inspired by a visit by volunteers to The Chicken Shed in London. For a while in the early  days there were two Zig-Zags a week!



The 2010's

Long before the 2010's, KEEN had secured its place in the life of the community, providing one of the most established bridges between the town, the two universities, and local schools. In the last decade KEEN has expanded once more, in 2015 adding a year round sports session GrEAT Sports aimed at adults, to complement GrEAT Social and bring the total number of regular weekly sessions to 6.

In the same time, KEEN Plus has developed into a unique programme of special 'one off' or yearly opportunities. We have now enjoyed some old favourites for years, for example our much loved trips to the ice rink at the start of each term, and to the Funomusica concerts put on by the Oxford Philomusica,  and the Pantomime at the Oxford Playhouse each December.

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