Dart Valley University of the Third Age
With their gold sashes and big friendly smiles, it was not hard to find Clare and Helen, the welcoming committee members of the Dart Valley U3A, at the steps of the Flavel.
It was the second Thursday of the month, the day of the group’s monthly membership meeting and there was a very lively buzz at the town’s arts centre - as 74 “third agers” congregated in a most relaxed and warm environment. They were here for a general get together and to listen to Julian Brazil, Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate in the last election and South Hams District Councillor, describing life on an election campaign trail.
The University of the Third Age (U3A) is a learning cooperative of older people set up to share educational, creative and leisure activities.
The Third Age refers to the period of time after the first age of childhood dependence and the second age of full-time employment and parental responsibility. According to the U3A, one in four of the UK population is in their third age. There are currently more than 760 U3As across the UK.
The Dart Valley group was formed in 1999. A committee of nine, including Clare Ball who is in her second year as chairman, is in charge of day-to-day operations.
Clare said: “We have really, really enthusiastic committee members who are very friendly and enjoy their roles and so pass that enjoyment on to our members. We’re going from strength to strength and now have 339 members, plus an extra two potential new members signing up this morning.
She said the U3A is for all semi and fully retired people and there are no upper or lower age limits. She added: “If you’ve got the time to do it, do it. There are more than a quarter of a million members across the country – it’s a very safe and well established organisation to belong to.”
Publicity Officer Helen Cottington said: “For lots of our members joining us is a new beginning, because it changes so many people’s lives. There are many older people that have little or nothing to do during the day and don’t wish to go out at night. Being a member of U3A means people can continue their active life without having to venture out in the dark!
“Often people at this age are alone and so really enjoy the companionable side of U3A, where they get to meet a lot of people in the same boat. There is a tremendous social side to this group.
“We now have 31 different interest groups so members can do something they’ve always wanted to do but never allowed themselves time to do it. The structure of the U3A can be a life changing and enhancing thing for so many people.”
And there certainly appears to be something for everyone - from archery to computing, jazz, photography, Spanish, Scrabble and watercolours or, if that sounds too strenuous, there’s a pub lunch group too.
Weekly classes are held on a termly basis in local halls and member’s houses. There is a £10 yearly subscription to join and members pay £1.50 to attend the monthly meeting. Group members pay any additional expenses such as hall hire and travel.
Mike Banner, from Blackawton, who has been a member for five years, was at the monthly meeting. He said; “there’s a great sense of camaraderie here and a wide variety of people to meet. A friend in Bath was a member and suggested I find my local group as I’m retired and wanted something to do. The Dart Valley group needed a secretary so I stepped in up until June this year when I moved house. I knew just one person when I started as secretary and now know a truly great bunch of people here.
“I tried the French classes as I like going to France and enjoy trying to speak the language, although I have to admit I’m not much good at it! Still, the classes are fun and everyone gets on really well.”
John Alker, from Dartmouth, was also at the Flavel. He has been a member for nearly three years and said; “There’s so many interesting things that one can get involved in and such a wide ranging mix of classes. If it’s not on the list and enough like-minded people want it, you can start a new class. The U3A is all-inclusive, everybody’s welcome. You don’t have to be an expert in anything, just have an interest. You can do something you’ve never done before.”
John has been running the geology group for the last year. He arranges excursions and classes at the Flavel and member’s houses. Recently the group has visited behind the scenes at Torquay Museum, the Pengelly Caves at Buckfastleigh and studied the geological features at Blackpool Sands and Exeter Cathedral. They’ve also had a number of talks, including one from a retired field geologist who has worked in mines in Africa.
Kathy Stansfield, from Dartmouth, was also enjoying the monthly meeting. She has been a member for 18 months, has re-instated the garden group and is a member of the geology group too.
She said: “The garden group has about five to ten regular members who meet up once a month in each other’s houses. We have sessions on different aspects of gardening, including planting and allotments, and look around gardens. We recently had a great trip to Orchid Paradise near Newton Abbot. The U3A has a very good central resource. It’s very friendly and there are lots of activities to choose from.”
At December’s Flavel meeting the Dart Valley U3A will be joined by Richard Rawlins, of the Magic Circle, who will entertain members with his magic skills, whilst everyone enjoys Christmas nibbles and some friendly festive cheer.
For more information see www.u3a.org.uk or call Vince Flanagan, the Dart Valley U3A membership secretary, on 01803 832449.
First Published December 2011 By The Dart