Bedford U3A - The Early Days

Bedford U3A - Have you ever wondered how it all began?

In 1989, Mr Allen was the Senior Youth Worker at Hastingsbury School in Kempston. He was trying to forge links between the school and the local community. He invited interested persons to the school to hear about a group his mother belonged to in Bath: the U3A. About 12 people went along and were so impressed that they decided to form a steering committee.

Their first meeting took place on 31 May 1989 when it was decided to call the new Group Bedford U3A. A committee was chosen and one of the Members produced a draft constitution.

From these small beginnings, Bedford U3A was launched. It was publicised by word of mouth, advertising leaflets in libraries and doctors surgeries and, Steve says, by distribution of yellow slips at Post Offices to give out with pensions!

One of the first decisions was the introduction of Open Meetings once a month. They did not have Speakers initially. After the welcome from the Chair and the announcements from the secretary the time was used to plan, set up groups and chat with friends and, of course, have coffee. They had a raffle to raise funds.

The first Groups were the walking and swimming groups and other groups followed in quick succession.

They managed to get a grant from a local charity to buy a photocopier and a computer. All the notices, committee minutes and later the Bulletin were produced using the photocopier. John Cannon recalls how the reverse side of the Bulletin page had to be copied one sheet at a time to avoid smudging.

The Committee were concerned that the Group Leaders who held the meetings in their own homes would be out of pocket and introduced a system by which each member of the Group paid 20p per session. In fact, very few leaders kept this money but paid it over to the Treasurer with the surprising result that income from these payments exceeded the amount paid by annual subscription!

Bedford U3A soon outgrew the original venue of the Lounge at Hastingsbury School, and moved first into the school hall and then to the Addison Centre in Kempston. A second centre for monthly meetings was opened at Putnoe Heights Church later and moved to Bedford Rugby Athletic Club in 2006.

What helped us to grow from 12 members?

- In 1992 Bedford U3A had a full page in the Beds Times illustrated with photos of Groups and the Committee.

- The Gardening Group was asked for assistance by St Johns School to reorganise the garden area around the school. The local Community newspaper printed an article and a photo.

- An Exhibition was held in 1997 in a local Church which was opened by the then Mayor of Kempston.

- The banner we show at Addison was made by the Art and Craft groups for the River Festival in Millennium year. It hung with banners from many other organisations.

- And lastly, our members themselves who have spread the word and introduced their friends.

Compiled from memories of the O’Donoghues, the Cannons, the Armstrongs and a written history recorded by Ken Armstrong.

Written by Audrey Hancock for the 20th anniversary of Bedford U3A in 2009.