We catch up with Elizabeth Drury, Communications Officer at the University of the Third Age to find out how this growing movement for lifelong learning can help you get creative . . .

What is U3A and what does it do? 

“The U3A movement (University of the Third Age) brings together people in their Third Age to continue their educational, social and creative interests in a friendly and sociable environment.  U3As give people who have entered the third stage of their life - no longer in full-time employment or bringing up a family - the opportunity to stay active and have fun learning at minimal cost.

There are no formal qualifications or exams to pass and there is no age limit to join U3A. The U3A movement has been going for 34 years, with 1,011 U3As across the UK and over 380,000 members.”

Who runs the groups / classes on offer and what subjects do they cover?  

“Each U3A acts much like a branch of the movement with each one running a wide variety of different interest groups or classes depending on the interests of their members. The members of local U3As draw upon their knowledge and experience to teach and learn from each other.

It's all voluntary, run in fun, informal activity sessions with literally thousands of different interest groups/classes to choose from covering just about every subject you can think of, including  art, music, creative writing, gardening, walking, languages or bridge to name just a few.

To give you an example, Perth U3A has over 60 different groups, including archaeology, ceilidh dancing, poetry appreciation, listening to classical music, an introduction to Gaelic and even a class studying Bob Dylan!

Dundee U3A has over 40 interest groups including art, craft, card making, international politics, Italian and Scottish Dancing, not forgetting the Dee Ukes Ukulele group, who won a Chorus Community Music Award earlier this year. Here’s what they have to say about their group”:

'There are 30 members in Dee Ukes. We are all retired people from various backgrounds and our ages range from 60 to 90+. We meet every week to sing and develop our ukulele skills, but the most important thing for all of us is to have fun, which we certainly do! The benefits to us as a group are plentiful. Singing and learning a musical instrument, according to research has a positive effect on mental health and well-being, plus great friendships have developed within our group and we each feel a tremendous sense of achievement.' – Liz Crawford, member of Dee Ukes.

Is U3A open to suggestions for new groups?

“Yes absolutely, if you join a U3A and feel there is a subject you would like to study which isn’t currently offered, you can start your own group as long as there are a few other members wanting to join in.

It may be a subject that you already have some knowledge of, something which you didn’t have the time to carry on learning previously or a completely new subject. 

There is lots of support for you, including online tools that you can use and the Third Age Trust resource centre that members can access for free. Most of all, U3A wants you to learn and have lots of fun doing it so your ideas are welcome!”

How do you join and what are the benefits of being a member?

“Firstly, being a member means you can keep learning at a minimal cost - Life Long Learning!

Members join their local or nearest U3A directly (with an affordable joining fee set by each local U3A).  This gives you a cost effective way to access the many classes and interest groups on offer or have the freedom to start up interest groups of your own.  It also means you have access to any excursions or trips that may be organised by the U3A. 

Secondly, being a U3A member means you can get involved in the bigger picture, such as governance and helping to set the charity’s strategy and direction.  This covers everything from taking part in U3A monthly meetings, or as a network chairman (involving a number of U3As), representing your U3A at the national AGM or standing for office for the Third Age Trust NEC (National Executive Committee) as a trustee. As a member you can even help set up a new U3A.

U3A puts education at its heart and so members also have the tools and support to get involved in wider collaborative research or shared learning projects with other organisations. The National Office organises exclusive member only events throughout the year with organisations including the National Gallery or the Royal Horticultural Society.

As a member of U3A you become part of a much wider family - a ‘university’ of more than 380,000 other members, many of whom share the same interests as you.  At U3A we learn together, make friends and have fun!”

How can people find their local U3A?

“Look on our website under find a U3A which will give you all the numbers you need or the national office is always there to help you by ringing 0208 466 6139.”

If there isn't a U3A locally, how might someone go about setting one up?

“First contact the National Office - they will advise you on the process and a Regional Trustee will contact you. The office will provide documentation and publicity materials and will be on hand throughout the whole process, together with the trustee and local volunteers.”

U3A has many events lined up throughout the year, including residential summer schools and research conferences.  Find all this information and more at www.u3a.org.uk