Brecon U3A Newsletter – Easter 2021

I hope the end of the Spring term finds you well, and looking forward to a summer which will be a big improvement on 2020.

We are not yet able to know when we can return to the Theatre, but the committee is in contact with David Wilson and his team, and hopefully we can look forward to meeting face to face after the Summer Break. Whilst the last twelve months have been difficult and painful for so many people, Brecon U3A has continued to provide a varied and stimulating programme of talks, and we owe Alison and Agi a huge vote of thanks, as well as our chairman Mike Ingram who embraced the technology to enable it to happen. In the best traditions of U3A, thanks too to all our members who contributed to the programme.

Looking to the future, one feature of Brecon U3A that has always been popular is the programme of events and visits arranged by the Travel Group. We will endeavour to start offering opportunities to get out and about. Pat would be very pleased to receive any ideas for excursions and visits, so we can start planning, and do the necessary preparation. We also need to ascertain the level of support from you the members. Pat has asked for his email to be included in this newsletter, and you can contact him with your ideas and suggestions on – Be assured that meetings and travel will only take place when it is deemed safe to do so.

Whilst our focus is very firmly on Brecon U3A, as I have stressed before, we are one of over a thousand independent charities which operate under the umbrella of the Third Age Trust. The Third Age Movement will celebrate its 40th anniversary next year, but however good the past has been, we need to recognise that the future will be different, so this might be a good time to start thinking about the U3A of the future.

Nationally we have lost about 20% of our membership, and many U3As are inactive. Historically U3As have grown by word of mouth, and we don’t have a national profile – U3A is not well known. From a survey completed in 2019 we know that the average age of members has increased from 72 – 74, and there has been a significant decline in people joining in their 60s. So, even without COVID-19 we would need to regenerate, and we need to attract a new generation of people in their 60s and 70s.

One of the effects of the pandemic has tragically meant that many people will not be in employment or have to adjust working patterns. There is no age barrier to people joining U3A, and I envisage a time when people who are not in full time employment could look at the benefits U3A has to offer. The ethic of offering opportunities to continue learning across the wider community is wholly in accord with our charitable purpose. Several U3As have reorganised programmes and group meetings to meet at weekends or evenings. The technology enables this to happen, but there is a consensus across the movement that we need to offer meeting face to face as and when it is possible.

No one knows what the future holds, but I think it can be good. Our neighbours in Hay on Wye are reaching out to local farmers and are sharing programmes with Aberystwyth and England – well Kington U3A! The South Wales Network meets monthly and has rebuilt their website. Members from U3As across the South offer talks and presentations to other U3As, and there is no reason why this cannot continue and grow. It is recommended that each committee has a “technical- member” (we are extremely fortunate in having Mike) and Nick Talbot from Llandrindod U3A is offering to run courses on the dark arts of building websites etc.

The Trust has provided a service called “Member Link” an amalgam of ideas and support that U3As can access all in one place. It includes ideas for people who for whatever reason are not “online” and will be updated as U3As feed in new ideas. A National Learning Programme will soon be in place, and Sue Shannon Smith from Swansea U3A is leading two Shared Learning Projects – The High Street, and Slow Ways (footpaths).

One of the really exciting initiatives comes from Scotland. They have launched a new network in which all U3As can take part. Twenty groups meet via Zoom right across Scotland – Lockerbie to Lerwick! At present there are 20 groups in subject areas which include Music, Science, Philosophy, Climate Change and online Canasta. The technology has allowed this to happen, but it is an initiative which is growing in popularity and is attracting people in far away places with strange sounding names.

I hope this newsletter evokes a positive view of the future. Change is never easy and rarely popular, but different can also be better. Can I on your behalf offer our thanks to the committee at Brecon U3A who have responded to the challenges thrown up by the pandemic and allowed us to look forward to a different but brighter future.
We all on the committee recognised that for some people the last months have meant isolation, and on occasions you may feel it would be good to talk to someone – Judi has spent hours during the last year keeping in touch and ringing her friends for a chat.

Let me end with an invitation to you all to look to the future. Thomas Hardy suggested that each day should begin with a pen in your hand, so you can begin the process of imagination. There has never been a better time to do this with the announcement on St David’s Day of the “Welsh Short Story Competition”. The title this year is “Freedom”, so grab a pen and start imagining.

My best wishes to you all,

Richard Walker
on behalf of the Brecon U3A Committee