There was a large and venerable apple tree in the garden when we came to [...]
U3A: loving this way of learningCreated by Verity in Being You, Learning
‘It’s a fantastic way of learning new things, it’s sociable – and, best of all, it’s a good laugh!’ says Sue Fifer of her local U3A – University of the Third Age – group in Barnet. Sue has been involved in education all her life, but when she was looking for things to do in retirement, she knew she wanted something more flexible and informal than evening classes.
‘I’d just learned to play mah-jong and saw a notice from a member of the Barnet U3A group, looking for partners to play with. So we set up a group. I offered to teach it and she offered to host it at her home.’ Since then Sue has taken up table tennis, patchwork and quilting and joined creative writing and book groups. ‘I did think of joining the tap dancing group, but you have to call a halt sometime!’
A thriving ukulele group
One of Sue’s latest projects is learning to play the ukulele. She says: ‘I was just passing a shop one day and saw one in the window. I couldn’t resist buying it, and then I found that several other members wanted to learn to play the instrument.’ So Barnet U3A now has a thriving ukulele group! Sue has brought her own expertise in family history to the group. She’s an authority on the subject, so she put up a notice asking if anyone would be interested in learning how to trace their own family histories. She received a tremendous response. The group started to meet at a member’s home, but soon needed bigger premises. Everyone agreed to pay a small fee to book a church hall, and the group has thrived ever since.
Sue says: ‘Learning in the U3A is not done in the traditional way. There are no formal lessons and very few teachers. Most U3A groups investigate a subject for themselves and meet in any public space that’s available, often in members’ homes. It’s flexible, so ideal for those with grandparenting duties. You don’t need qualifications and it costs very little. And, of course, it’s a great way to make new friends.’
Making up for lost time
Estelle Bullough wanted to go to university to study languages when she was young. But her mother died when she was 15, and Estelle had to leave school and work in a bank. Then at last, nearly 40 years later, she was able to take up the languages she loved. She joined the Bradford U3A, and it’s been part of her life for 20 years. In that time, she has learned German, French, Spanish and Italian. She’s travelled a lot to use her languages, and even joined the U3A’s network of translators and interpreters who gave their services to nonprofit-making bodies in the 1990s.
Estelle has two sons and two daughters, and like many U3A members, she’s also a grandmother, with two grandsons and two granddaughters. She also has a 10-month-old greatgranddaughter.
Find your local U3A
Estelle and Sue are just two of the quarter of a million U3A members up and down the country. They’re all in their ‘third age’ – not a specific age but a period in a person’s life after the ‘second age’ of full-time employment and parental responsibility. With 779 local U3As – autonomous, self-help organisations that belong to the Third Age Trust – there’s almost certainly one near you. But if not, the U3A will help you start one.
They cover a huge range of interests – and if yours isn’t included, you can always suggest a topic and see if there are other members interested in it, too. Most also have a thriving social side, and some organise trips and holidays. When you join, you’ll probably have to pay a small annual subscription and possibly a portion of any costs of hiring premises.