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.’

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.

The Wigan area has various U3A groups on offer. Wigan U3A runs 16 regular activity sessions, from walking to fishing, while the larger Upholland & District U3A boasts 52 distinct groups, including theatre trips, heritage railway and flower arranging. A little further north, try language learning or singing for fun at the Parbold, Newburgh & District U3A, which offers 23 activities. Whatever your niche, you’re sure to find someone else who shares it.

Upholland & District

Formed in 2005, the Upholland & District U3A has grown to 850 members from around the area. Along with the smaller activity sessions, members of the group meet for a coffee morning on the first Thursday of each month at St. Teresa’s Hall on College Road between 9:45am and 12pm; guest speakers take to the stage on the third Tuesday of each month at the same venue.

‘Members have the advantage of being part of a large family of like-minded people, which helps to reduce isolation. Ours is a vibrant, active, social group and a lot of effort is put in to maintain that,’ says Alma Harrison, leader of the Communications Team at Upholland U3A.

In terms of popularity, Alma says the walking groups are particularly well attended. ‘They cover various mileages and difficulties. The gardening, photography, local history and musical groups are all popular as well – the input of members is most important so they can learn together.’

One member said: ‘It has been thrilling to see how much the U3A has grown since its inception – all the new friends that have been made and the large number of groups has been amazing! Long may it reign!’

Annual membership to the Upholland & District U3A costs £10, with a one-off payment for the first year only of £12.50 for administration.

Wigan

The youngest of the bunch, Wigan U3A is only in its first year of operation but already boasts over 200 members and 15 interest groups, including urban sketching, model making and ancestry.
One of the reigning benefits of Wigan U3A is its ability to keep members busy. Vice Chairman Angela Grundy particularly enjoys the U3A’s lively atmosphere: ‘It’s surprising to find myself so busy after my retirement’, she says. ‘There is always a good atmosphere filled with chatter and laughter – you really feel lifted. I’m amazed at the different activities I find myself doing and sometimes I look around at everyone and see them all smiling and it gives me a real sense of belonging.’

The Wigan incarnation of the U3A invites its members to regular coffee mornings which act as membership meetings and speakers meetings. Hosted at The Edge Conferencing Centre, meetings allow members the chance to catch up with the goings-on of the U3A, new members to sign up, and visitors to hear guest speakers lecture on a huge range of thought-provoking subjects. Entry to speakers meetings costs £1.

These meetings afford members the opportunity to learn something new whilst socialising with a huge range of different people from all walks of life. Beryl Cheetham, who runs the Local History group, points out that the U3A caters for a wide range of interests, which often eases the pressure of socialising because everyone has at least one thing in common – their desire to learn.

‘Some members just attend the bigger meetings,’ she says. ‘They take the opportunity to learn something new and interesting at the speakers meetings or have a coffee and a lively chat at the members meetings. Some just enjoy the trips out!’

It’s true – joining a U3A is perfect for anyone with the travel bug. It’s never too late to see the world, and Wigan’s U3A just goes to show that retirement might be the perfect time to get out and about. There are already various outings planned for 2019, including a visit to Blackburn Chocolate House in February and a walking tour of Manchester in March.

Wigan U3A membership costs £15 per year.

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 – it can be daunting to walk into a room of people when you’re by yourself, but 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.

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.