The New Year is a time of resolutions. Whether you’re a stickler for sticking to them or often let standards slide after January, there’s no better time to effect change than the start of another year. And there’s no better way to make that change than by joining a U3A.
One of the best ways to stay positive is to surround yourself with friends, and meeting new people through the U3A is the perfect way to make new ones. You’ll try new things together, go on trips out together, and make strides towards improving your physical and psychological wellbeing in 2019.
The UK’s incarnation of the University of the Third Age was founded 35 years ago, inspired by a similar movement in France. The organisation has a strong focus on people in retirement or part-time employment who are no longer raising a family – people who now have time to devote themselves to learning for its own sake. Its core principles are to promote lifelong learning through self-help interest groups, which cover a wide range of subjects and take full advantage of the varied skillset of their members.
‘Learning Not Lonely’ research carried out by the U3A found that 3.7 million people aged over 65 live alone, and 41% of older people feel out of touch with modern life. Furthermore, 1 in 5 older people suffer from depression, which is often caused by isolation in the community – that’s where the U3A comes in.
There are around 1,000 U3A groups nationwide, and over 400,000 members – so whatever your interests, you’re sure to find someone you get along with. No qualifications are needed to join, and there are definitely no exams (although quizzers will be pleased to note, plenty of opportunities to test your knowledge).
Established in 2010, St. Helens U3A boasts over fifty different activity groups, from tap dancing to Latin, and around 800 members. It aims to provide a friendly, welcoming environment to older people in the community, and prides itself on a very evident community spirit.
‘The U3A is unique,’ says Chairperson Andrea Knowles. ‘It has no teachers or tutors, it neither needs nor gives any qualifications. We find that our members will brave the cold and wet weather because they know that attending groups is worth the effort, especially meeting up with friends and being involved in activities. U3A’s core aim is learning in later life, but a substantial side benefit is that it happens in company with other people, who quickly become friends.’
‘One of my favourite things about being involved with a U3A is that it stretches me mentally with reading and music groups, and physically through walking groups, while giving me an active social life. It is a lifeline when circumstances change in later life, and definitely helps to combat loneliness and isolation,’ she tells me.
Michael, one of the group leaders at St. Helens U3A, says: ‘I used to be a Youth Worker, and one of the rewards of the job was hearing a young person say, “I didn’t know I could do that!” I’m just as delighted now when I hear people my own age or older say the same thing.’
An environment that encourages learning and self-actualisation through shared skills, the U3A certainly provides members with a burgeoning community in itself. However, it also offers opportunities to get involved with local people and organisations.
‘We have links with other agencies in St. Helens,’ Andrea continues. ‘Each month at our Drop-In we invite one organisation to have a table where they can tell members about their services. These have included help with hearing and sight loss, as well as retirement village living and a visit from Merseytravel.’
The St. Helens U3A meets for a coffee morning on the fourth Wednesday of every month in the World of Glass café from 10am-12:30pm.
General meetings also take place on the second Wednesday of the month at 10:30am in the World of Glass’s Reflections Suite, which features guest speakers on a wide range of topics.
Annual membership to St. Helens U3A costs £15, with a small charge of £2 for group meetings to cover room hire and materials. Joining couldn’t be simpler – just pop along to one of the meetings and fill in a membership form. Alternatively, you can contact the U3A via their website – if you’re interested in a particular group, contact details can usually be found in the ‘Groups’ section.
If you’re sick of trying and failing to stick to the same tired New Year’s resolutions, give the U3A a go this January. You never know – it might just change your life.