Learn, laugh and live!
Retired, semi-retired, children grown up and left home?
It is a time in life when many people experience freedom from daily responsibilities and commitments for the first time in decades. Possibly since they were teenagers! It is a chance to live a little more for yourself.
It is a time to explore new ideas, skills and interests, to make new friends and simply enjoy yourself.
And many people turn to u3a, a UK-wide self-help membership organisation providing opportunities to continue to ‘learn, laugh and live’ through meeting others from your area at a similar time of life.
The u3a movement has been staying active, learning and having fun for more than 40 years, showcasing what it means to have a positive later life.
The organisation has more than 1,000 branches in towns and cities across the UK, with more than half a million members – a figure that dwarfs the membership of many better-known social and leisure movements.
Despite this huge popularity, a local u3a organiser believes that u3a has the potential to attract many more members especially from within Shropshire. “Half a million is a huge membership but when you consider there are something like 12.5 million people over 65 years of age in the UK, then we are only scratching the surface”, says Chris Wright, chair and activities co-ordinator of Bridgnorth & District u3a, which has a membership of more than 300.
The u3a movement’s wide programme of events and activities is determined by the members themselves, based almost solely on them sharing their talents, interests, and experience with fellow members. A u3a group is essentially an organisational enabler, providing opportunities for people to come together, to learn, to volunteer and to stay active. In this, the u3a movement is integral to promoting health and wellbeing as we age – a massive social force for good.
The organisation is aimed at anyone who is nearing retirement, is fully or semi-retired and/or has finished raising their family if they had one.
“This stage of life is often called the ‘third age’, and it brings with it more spare time to explore new activities and interests,” Chris explains.
“All u3a activity and interest groups are led by u3a members for the benefit of their fellow members. Activity and interest group leaders share their knowledge and skills in small groups covering a wide and changing variety of activities ¬– from walking to talking, geology to genealogy, yachting to yoga, current affairs to supper clubs, the topics are endless!”
In the UK, ageism is believed to be the most prevalent form of discrimination, with one in three people experiencing age-based prejudice. A survey of u3a members found that nearly 40 per cent had heard ageist language used about their age group. A fifth of surveyed u3a members in their 60s said they had been described as ‘elderly’ with 37 per cent finding the term offensive. Fortunately, the notion that older people should be active citizens, rather than passive social casualties, is increasingly becoming the norm – and u3a has played a major role in driving this change of mindset.
The Third Age Trust is the national umbrella body supporting u3a groups throughout the UK. So why not discover what your local u3a group has to offer? The group is very active in Shropshire. Bridgnorth & District u3a launched in April 2007, and Much Wenlock, Broseley & District u3a formed in January 2013, are thriving, offering a wide range of interests and activities.
Groups have monthly open speaker meetings and visitors are always welcomed, with no obligation. There is no upper or lower age limit to membership.
For under £15 per year, you can access all that your local u3a offers. It is certainly worth taking a look at the range of activity and interest groups available. Both groups have very informative websites. Costs for activities are always kept to a minimum by only recouping expenses incurred such as room hire, refreshments, tickets and transport – and some activities are free!
Monthly speakers cover a breadth of fascinating, sometimes challenging, topics. For example, subjects at Bridgnorth so far this year have included Much Wenlock Olympian Trail, Shropshire Seasons, Slideshow from a Hot Air Balloon, 2,000 years of Shropshire History, Anti-Semitism – Some Lessons Learned and Unlearned and the Survival of the Princes in the Tower.
Social groups include Coffee in Town and a Members Facebook Group. There are days out with friends plus visits to explore churches and gardens. Or why not enjoy the company of others in the healthy, outdoor pursuit of walking, either over short distances or across a whole day? Then there is the chance to take part in pastimes as diverse as geocaching and crown green bowling.
Those who are adept at languages have the chance to converse, for example, in French, Spanish, Italian and German. “We don’t run language courses but members who find that they share language skills will get together over a cup of coffee and converse in, say, Italian”, Chris explains.
For those who love indoor games, there are pursuits as varied as backgammon, bridge, canasta, chess, cribbage, mahjong, Rummikub, Scrabble and light-hearted table tennis.
In the UK, ageism is believed to be the most prevalent form of discrimination.
The u3a organisation certainly embraces the notion that exercising the mind is a route to prolonged health and wellbeing in later life. This is demonstrated by the sheer range of cerebral pursuits shared by members including art appreciation, book clubs, classics study, craft and chat groups, creative writing, Philosophy, photography, play readings, Psychology, quizzes, wine tasting and iPad support. Music appreciation and guitar and ukulele playing also add to the range of cultural and entertainment options, as do regular cinema trips.
At Bridgnorth, speaker meetings are held on the fourth Wednesday afternoon of every month, except December, in The Bridgnorth Community Hall, off Severn Street in Low Town. Much Wenlock & Broseley u3a meet on the second Wednesday in the month in The Priory Hall, Much Wenlock.
Chris adds: “Not every member comes along to our monthly open meetings, rather choosing to take part in one or more of our many activity groups.
“Joining any of these groups is an opportunity to meet new people and make new friends whilst taking up new challenges. New groups are continually being formed by our members.”
Making new friends, discovering fresh interests, unearthing hidden talents, building a busy and stimulating social life in your ‘third age’ – that’s u3a in a nutshell. And you’re never too young or too old! Discover your local u3a and check out what is on offer.
Visit bridgnorthanddistrictu3a.org.uk and Much Wenlock & District u3a: u3asites.org.uk/much-wenlock/home for more information.