“There is a fountain of youth – it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.” Sophia Loren
Although I left school more than 40 years ago without an A level to my name, I am thinking of going to university. Not Oxbridge, of course, not even the Open University, but the University of the Third Age (U3A), and there is a campus of sorts right here in Reigate.
The U3A movement is a unique nationwide organisation which provides life-enhancing opportunities for retired or semi-retired members. The Reigate and Redhill group has a syllabus of more than 60 diverse subjects including calligraphy, earth sciences, jazz, military history, wine appreciation and foreign languages. Members can pool their knowledge, learn new skills and develop new interests, and all the while making new friends.
Significantly different from the French model – Universite du Troisieme Age which started in 1972 and was linked to an actual university, the U3A movement was first introduced to the UK by Cambridge academic, Peter Laslett. He and like-minded supporters recognised that learning need not cease as we grow older, but that those in the third age have much to share and experience together, drawing on one another’s contributions.
The U3A approach is learning for pleasure, there is no accreditation or validation, and there are no assessments or qualifications to be gained. Each group is an independent charity in its own right functioning within the national representative body of The Third Age Trust. As learning co-operatives, they draw upon the knowledge, experience and skills of their members to organise and provide interest groups (academic, practical and recreational) in accordance with the wishes of the membership.
There are now more than 1,000 groups nationwide, the Reigate and Redhill branch of U3A was established in 1983. Membership costs £14.00 a year (£25.00 a couple); there is a bi-annual magazine, a quarterly newsletter and monthly bulletin. There are nearly 900 members and within those over 100 small friendly groups meet regularly, usually in members’ homes, to share a variety of activities.
Larger meetings open to the whole membership take place on the first Friday of each month at Reigate Park Church where they host a variety of lively speakers on all manner of subjects. It is not all meetings though, however relaxed and interesting they may be. There are outings and holidays, coffee mornings and evening entertainments, study days, national events and summer schools. In fact, it seems that retirement for U3A members is busier than employment!
For more information about the Reigate and Redhill branch of U3A, visit: www.rru3a.org.uk, or call Heather Phipps, the membership secretary on: 01737 359009
By Sarah Ballingal