Everything you need to know about the U3A – the interest-led organisation for those in their ‘third age’

The U3A is a UK-wide movement which brings those in their ‘third age’ — those who are retired, semi-retired or no longer with parental responsibility — together to form new friendships, develop their interests and discover the benefits of lifelong learning.

Started more than 35 years ago the national charity has now grown to become one of the largest volunteer-led organisations in the country, with 1043 U3As and 425,000 members.

What is the U3A?

Each U3A is home to a number of interest groups, with interests ranging from art to zoology and everything in between. Walking is one of the most popular interest groups, with almost all U3As having at least one walking group.

There are also around ten groups in the country with a focus on wellbeing – including the Wellbeing with nature in Oundle and District (pictured below). U3As such as those in the NW region also hold occasional wellbeing conferences, where expert speakers (often from other U3As as well as outside) speak on various subjects within health and wellbeing field.

Each week there are a staggering 30,000 U3A interest groups taking place in the UK.

On what makes the U3A so unique, Sam Mauger, the Chief Executive of the Third Age Trust which supports the more than 1,000 U3A charities in the UK said, “The U3A model is low-cost, defined by participants, and learner-led. It is not dependent on state funding; it has a life and existence of its own.

“Most of all, U3A shows the value of communities of interest and learning which are not defined by age, or by past experience, but instead are defined by the experiences still to be explored”.

How do I join the U3A?

You’ll find information about the U3A on the organisation’s website, simply search for the groups nearest to you and enquire about joining. You can also speak to someone over the phone, by ringing the national office.

On average, it costs less than £20 a year to join the U3A,

What’s it like to be part of the U3A?

U3A released research – Learning Not Lonely – which looked at the impact of the U3A learning model, found that it produced a sustainable and positive approach to ageing built on group learning, skill sharing and volunteering.

We spoke to two members to learn more about their experience of the U3A, and how it’s impacted their lives.

Ruth Freedman, 68, who formerly ran a training consultancy, has been part of the U3A for five years

I knew people who had joined the U3A, but I didn’t think much about it until we relocated to Colchester five years ago. I’d recently retired, and thought it was the perfect way to meet new people.

After a quick look on the website, I found two groups in the area. After calling one up I was told that there would be a monthly meeting with speaker and cup of tea, and they suggested I pop along.

I then started attended lunch groups for new members once a month, as well as joining other groups such as the quiz team. With an interest in local culture and history, I decided to ask if I could lead local tours and visits to museums so that people who wanted to explore the surrounding area, but not alone, could do so. And that’s exactly what I did.

After that I joined the U3A committee, and two years ago I became a Chair. The national office – our version of a head office – were looking for people to give advice over the phone last year, so I also signed up to do that – it’s been great. I’m totally involved; the U3A is such a marvellous, unique organisation. And by being involved in so many elements, I’ve got so much more of it.

U3A is all about stopping people being lonely and isolated, and it’s made a difference to so many lives. All it takes is a little courage to attend a group and make the first step.

I find being a part of U3A varied, and it makes my days even more interesting than they were – I’ve met a lot of lovely people and learned so much.

I’m also very involved in volunteering for elderly charities, and if anyone says they have time on their hands I mention U3A as there are plenty of opportunities to help out as a befriender for older people or volunteer in hospitals.

Pam Jones, 81, has been involved with the U3A for 21 years

I was married at 20 and didn’t complete university. It was an era when people stayed at home, and I was happy to do that and focus on taking care of my three children.

Following my divorce from my first husband, I made my first foray into the world of work, getting a job at an insurance brokers. I went on to remarry, and I first heard about the U3A while living in Devon.

My second husband and I then relocated to Witney in Oxfordshire and I thought that joining the U3A would be great opportunity to make friends and meet new people.

I joined the U3A 21 years ago, and was Treasurer before becoming Chairman. I then become Chairman of Thames Valley Network U3A and following that become a Trustee of the Third Age Trust — the umbrella body that looks after U3As — for the South East region. Following that I became Vice Chairman, then Chairman, a role I retired from when I was 80.

The U3A has given me a great outlook on life. I’m still using my knowledge of the organisations to support a number of U3As, it keeps my mind and body active. I tell the doctor I don’t to come to see him because I’m too busy with the U3A.

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The U3A is really reasonable to join, with my membership to the U3A in Whitney costing just £20 a year. We have around 60 interest groups and do everything ourselves, drawing on the skills of the group to teach language sessions and more. We have interest groups varying from poetry groups to history groups and everything in between.

I’ve recently joined a bridge group and I’ve started a group on moral and ethical dilemmas. We also have two member meeting a month — anybody can attend — where we have speakers on anything from the history of art to travel and science.

The U3A changes people’s lives and it stops them being lonely. It’s been very fulfilling to be involved, especially as I didn’t have a career. I’ve got a get up and go attitude, and I think that matches perfectly with the U3A. I’d encourage anyone who’s interested to join.

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