Our History

Inclusion Melbourne’s history in many ways mirrors the history and development of disability support services in Victoria.

Over the decades Inclusion Melbourne has changed a great deal – its location, staff, activities and the people who use the service have all evolved with time as individual and community needs and expectations have changed. However, the one thing that has not changed is our desire to imagine and craft a better future for people with a disability.

Inclusion Melbourne began in the late 1940’s when a group of parents of children with intellectual disability came together to find an alternative to the institutional care that was the only option being offered at the time. From this group, the Prahran South Yarra Helping Hand Association set up a day centre for people with intellectual disability in a South Yarra church hall.

Gawith Villa, as we were then known, echoed the disability sector in the early years and was modelled on education principles providing life skills courses, literacy and numeracy classes and creative skills workshops. This school-based, congregate model has been until recently the centrepiece of the day service sector in Victoria, with government funding support commonly provided in the form of “block funding” which was broadly based on the size of the organisation. This is now increasingly developing into a more flexible, community-oriented funding model.

Inclusion Melbourne’s transformation from day service to individualised and personalised arrangements commenced in the early 1990s with the appointment of Prof Errol Cocks, formally the Director of Disability Services, Victoria. From this period on the organisation sought to provide disability support activities which better met the needs and interests of each of its service users and which took place in the community. Some of our hallmark programs are our disability employment program and our adult learning/adult education programs.

Inclusion Melbourne is still strongly guided by the fundamental belief in the worth and value of every person, and that it is everyone’s right to live in, contribute to and be recognised by their community as an equal citizen.

Key Milestones: Community Inclusion for People with Disabilities in Melbourne

1951 – A group of family members decided they would no longer accept the standard practices and options that were available for people with intellectual disability. This group grew very quickly, driven by a fundamental belief that ‘There must be something better’ for people with disabilities.

1954 – Gawith Villa was formed with a donation by the Prahran Council of a building at 65 Sutherland Road, Armadale, and named after the Prahran Mayor, Charles Sherwin Gawith and his wife, Beryl, who further contributed to the establishment of the organisation.

1961 – The organisation expanded into 67 Sutherland Road and continued to run a traditional Adult Training and Support Service (ATSS) there, providing life skills courses, literacy and numeracy classes and creative skills workshops.

Early 1980s – A number of people who attend Gawith Villa, with the support of the organisation, attend early meetings and camps that lead to the creation of the first self advocacy movement in Victoria for people with an intellectual disability.

1985 – Doug Pentland leaves Gawith Villa to work full time at Reinforce, a self advocacy movement. He later becomes the first person with an intellectual disability to join the board of Gawith Villa.

Early 1990s – A shift from the original ATSS model commenced. Activities start to take place away from the group setting, first through the Outreach program, later known as Individual services.

2007 – The organisation ceases all group based activities – every person begins to receive disability support services based on their own needs and interests. Gawith Villa sells 67 Sutherland Rd.

Jan 2008 – Gawith Villa establish administrative centre in 65 Sutherland Road (renumbered as 67).

Oct 2008 – Gawith Villa changes name to Inclusion Melbourne to capture the desire to be facilitating support for people in the community, and to create support for the concept of community inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities.