U3A The Tonic www.thetonic.co.uk

A university of life where mature students learn… from each other

Ever considered going back to school? It might sound crazy, but a trip back to the classroom could be the next best way to spend your retirement…

Maybe you feel like you finished education years ago and were glad to leave it in the past. Or maybe you love the idea and would jump at the chance to learn new stuff but have been daunted by the idea of learning with much younger people.

Would you be interested, then, in going to class if it were with people of your own age? For those of you itching to get that brain back in gear, meet new friends and learn new skills, the University of the Third Age could be a great way to do it.

The University, or U3A as it is more commonly known, has an important goal and an interesting angle. The organisation realised that retired and semi-retired people— referred to as those in their ‘third age’ — collectively have lifetimes’ worth of knowledge and experience. So why not get together and learn a thing or two from each other?

The concept is based around peer learning, where the university aims to capitalise on the experiences that its members can share. That way, everyone can learn something. And they say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks! (That doesn’t seem to be the case at all, apparently, because classes are booming).

We spoke to U3A alumni Beverly Ramsay to find out more about it all. How did she hear about the university in the first place?

“I picked up one of their leaflets from my local leisure centre, which happened to be quite close to the local pub where the U3A have regular meetings. I was previously aware of their existence but was unaware that there was a group very local to where I live.

Many of the members are professional people who’ve held responsible positions prior to retirement

“It’s not actually a university, although there may be courses that I’m not yet aware of. Many of the members are professional people who’ve held responsible positions prior to retirement. The organisation offers opportunities for members to learn new skills in a social setting from members who wish to offer those skills.

“There are a variety of clubs which include groups to which members can attach themselves, according to their interest. They include creative writing, poetry appreciation, music appreciation, walking, knitting, sewing, foodies, and more, which I have yet to discover.

“I’m very pleased to have discovered this group. The members have been very friendly and welcoming and it doesn’t take long to find activities that you enjoy.”

Marketing historically claims that keeping the brain active in later years can be a real boost to staying mentally well. But more considered recent thinking supports the application of ongoing mental activity, rather than facing the strain that comes from tackling difficult new challenges.

Keeping mentally active as a constant, rather than pushing into new and uncomfortable boundaries, is more likely to be enjoyable and therefore more beneficial. It’s a good reason to join a group like the U3A though – not only does it help to stimulate mental activity, the pleasure of learning a new thing comes with social activity. All round, it’s likely to be the holistic experience that is beneficial, rather than the grinding attack of ‘learning’.

I needed to get involved in a wider variety of activities and make new friends

“I needed to get involved in a wider variety of activities and make new friends as many of my friends have not yet retired,” says Beverly. “The organisation not only offers a wide variety of activities to suit all interests but also a vibrant community and potential new and interesting friends.

“There is also a fundraising element to the group, and funds are raised in a social setting for Cancer Research and other good causes. The ‘term’ ends in July and corresponds with the school summer dates as many people have grandchildren with whom they spend their summer hols; but there are still outings and coach trips to seaside destinations and so on for those who are still awaiting the arrival of additions to their families!”

The group has actually published a lovely book

So what classes and activities does Beverly get involved with?

“I am a member of the writing group which meets, like most of the groups, on a monthly basis. Each person is asked to write to a theme each month and invited to read one’s offering at each meeting. The whole atmosphere is so relaxed that as a new member my qualms at having an audience were quickly quelled.

“The group has actually published a lovely book The Great North Wood, which comprises a collection of short stories from all the members. I also participate in walking outings around outer London, and in fundraising events.”

Membership to U3A isn’t dependent on age. Instead, people who no longer have to worry about full-time employment or childcare are encouraged to join. As an option for those with time to fill, or dreading retirement, it’s a probably brilliant idea. And growing all the time.

Find out more
Prices vary based on course and location

Mature group learning together The Tonic www.thetonic.co.uk

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Sam Harrington-Lowe

As editor at the Tonic, Sam works with an extraordinary array of...

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