‘Third Age’ club looks forward to meeting up in the future

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The Stratford U3A ukulele group
Jackie Checketts

In these difficult times when many older people are in self-isolation, Stratford-upon-Avon University of the Third Age (U3A) Honorary President Jacqueline Checketts looks forward to when local groups start up again.

Many of you have been members of the U3A for several years, but you may like to be reminded of how it all began. And if you haven’t previously joined the group, we look forward to welcoming you in the future.

Founded over 35 years ago, the UK U3A movement was based loosely on the French model. It aims to encourage groups of people in their “third age” to come together and continue their enjoyment of learning in subjects of interest to them. It offers the opportunity to pursue learning for sheer enjoyment and for its own sake and to form new friendships.

From the start, the guiding principles were to promote lifelong learning through self-help interest groups covering a wide range of topics and activities as chosen by their members. Each U3A tries to encourage a wide range of interest groups. A group can consist of only two to four people.

The “third age” is defined by a time in your life. There is no minimum age, but a focus on people who are no longer in full-time employment, as most meetings and activities are held during the day. Our founders envisaged a collaborative approach with members learning from each other. The U3A movement was to be self-funded, with members not working towards qualifications but learning purely for pleasure.

From its beginnings in 1981, the movement grew very quickly and by the early 1990s a U3A was opening every fortnight. U3As grew in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and by 2010 saw our membership hitting the quarter-million mark.

At the end of 2016 the U3A movement reached the milestone of 1,000 U3As, celebrated by a conference with speakers including Eric Midwinter – one of the founders of the U3A movement. Today, our movement includes over 400,000 U3A members in more than 1,000 U3As and is continuing to grow every day.

Stratford-upon-Avon U3A was set up in 2000, the first of five in south Warwickshire. It’s very friendly and anyone not in full-time work and living within easy reach of Stratford may join. No qualifications are needed and none are awarded: all learning is for pleasure.

Most opportunities come through its interest groups, with many subjects to explore: craft, current affairs, languages, music, psychology, wine appreciation – and more!

We sincerely hope that, at the end of this unprecedented time, we can arrange our meetings again (the Stratford group meets monthly at the Methodist Church Hall in Old Town, opposite Holy Trinity Church), catch up with old friends, and be very thankful to be returning to normality, when we will be enthusiastically welcoming back our loyal members and, hopefully, encouraging some new ones to join us.

People find joining our groups so rewarding. Comments we’ve received include: “I was lonely after retiring and wanted to meet new people”; “I wanted to meet people of my own age to share thoughts and ideas”; and “There is a great sense of comradeship”.

One couple summed up their experience: “Our friends said, ‘Come and join this friendly group’, so we did and have since enjoyed a range of activities in good company: rambling, music-making, art, poetry, drama, book-reading, creative writing and cycling. There are many other groups, of course, in addition to the monthly meetings when an invited speaker gives a talk. These are always interesting, sometimes thought-provoking or amusing. The meetings end with tea and chat: a chance to discuss the talk, the state of the world or family news. We go home with the feeling of an afternoon well spent.”

For those able to be active online you can find out more at the website www.u3a.org.uk.

The national newsletter has become an even more important way for members to keep connected with each other and you can sign up to it via the website.