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.

Samantha Mauger, U3A National Chief Executive, said: ‘U3A members reported major benefits to being part of our learning model, feeling supported, learning new skills and combatting loneliness.’

Some studies have even hinted that learning and brain training can help improve aspects of memory and thinking, and research is ongoing into the effects of learning on dementia. Certain U3A groups get involved in the local community to host dementia-friendly events such as coffee mornings and film screenings to ensure that nobody is excluded.

Better yet, 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).

The West Lancashire area has various U3A groups on offer. Aughton & Ormskirk’s U3A is one of the UK’s biggest, while the smaller Burscough & District and Parbold, Newburgh & DIstrict U3As treasure their intimate atmospheres. Finally, Mawdesley Villages U3A is hailed by its 800+ members for its youthful attitude to the huge number of activities on offer. Whatever your niche, you’re sure to find someone else who shares it.

Parbold, Newburgh & District

‘I’ve always said that joining a U3A should be prescribed by doctors,’ says Mervyn Saunders, Chairman of the Parbold, Newburgh & District U3A. ‘In fact, one of the doctors in Ormskirk recommends it for anyone over the age of 55 in the area! Joining a U3A can be hugely beneficial to anyone who’s on their own – although it can be daunting to walk into a room full of people when you’re by yourself, we provide a friendly, welcoming environment so people can do just that.’

The Parbold, Newburgh & District U3A was formed in 2012, and meet at the Hut on the Hill behind Christ Church car park on Parbold Hill on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month. Meetings take place betweeen 1:30pm-3:30pm and get the whole U3A involved – general meetings can be a great place to catch up with other members and get involved in new groups.

‘I think one of the best things about our U3A is its size,’ Mervyn continues. ‘We’re quite a small group of around 180 members, and of them I’d call around 40 my personal friends, and more still acquaintances!’

You don’t have to stick to a schedule to join – members can dip in and out of sessions whenever they choose. ‘It’s very informal,’ explains Mervyn. ‘Everyone chucks in their own bits of knowledge and we all learn together.’

Annual membership to the Parbold U3A costs £13.50, with small group fees of around £1-£2 per session to cover room hire and refreshments.

Burscough

Founded in 2007, Burscough’s U3A now has around 300 members. The group is dedicated to reducing loneliness and isolation in the older community, and strives to create a space where people can make friends while improving their physical and mental wellbeing.

‘Since I’ve had more time on my hands and joined in U3A activities, I seem to have a lot less time to do nothing!’ says Penny Price, a member of the Burscough U3A. ‘From learning how to play crown green bowling and bridge with the U3A, I’ve joined a couple of bowling clubs and started playing bridge at a bridge club too.’

There’s a lot more to the U3A than individual sessions, though. In 2018 the drama club, for example, put on a Murder Mystery afternoon, and produced December’s pantomime ‘Glow White and the 7 Detergents’, which all U3A members were invited to attend.

‘The first time I went along, I thought “Oh heck, it’s full of older people!”’ says Heather Gawne, another U3A member. ‘I’d just retired and wanted to find activities that offered new challenges – once I realised and accepted I, too, was an “older” person and joined the U3A, I found it provided not only a full calendar of fun classes, clubs and events, but also a great bunch of new friends who are beautifully young at heart.’

The entire Burscough group meet every Friday afternoon between 2pm and 3pm in the Old People Club on Lord Street.

Aughton & Ormskirk

The largest U3A in the West Lancashire area, Aughton & Ormskirk U3A boasts a whopping 87 choices of group from philosophy to Zumba, and around 2000 members.

Most months, the whole group get together in-between smaller group sessions at Christ Church in Aughton to hear a guest speaker cover various topics – in the past, these have included everything from the future of artificial intelligence to the art of juggling.

Alongside this schedule of talks, regular coffee mornings take place every Thursday, which act as a more informal way to get to know each other,. Coffee mornings are a perfect opportunity to join new groups and perhaps think about establishing your own! Meetings take place at the Aughton Scout & Guide HQ at Christ Church between 9:45am and 11am.

U3As not only provide a new way to get involved in the local community, but offer various trips and tours throughout the year if you’re itching to get away for a while. 2018 saw U3A members heading out on an art tour of Italy, while attendees of the Occasional Day Trips group visited Penrhyn Castle in Bangor and Harewood House near Leeds. If you’re lamenting your decision against travelling the world in your twenties, why not get out there and do it now with the U3A?

Annual membership for Aughton & Ormskirk U3A costs £15.

Mawdesley Villages

Most notably dubbed a ‘youth club for grown-ups’ by one of its members, Mawdesley U3A boasts over eight hundred regular attendees. Dedicated to bringing people with a zest for life together in a relaxing but stimulating environment, the U3A offers a massive list of groups – 62 in total! Members can get involved with everything from fun mathematics and wood carving to cycling or walking in foreign lands.

From the get-go, Mawdesley U3A provides a friendly face in the community. General meetings (or Community Mornings) are held every Wednesday between 10:15am and 11:45am at Mawdesley Village Hall, where new members can get involved or existing ones can join new groups. Visitors can also try taster sessions at the smaller group sessions before formally signing up to sample life in a U3A.

Joining a U3A really couldn’t be simpler. Just head down to one of the general meetings or coffee mornings of your chosen area and make yourself known to the friendly team! 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.