Crewkerne & District


Crewkerne U3A is part of the Avalon Network . The Network is made up of a group of U3As, in close proximity to us, who meet regularly to exchange and share information and ideas.
The following groups are part of this network:-
Camelot U3A
Chard,Ilminster and District U3A
Crewkerne U3A
Somerton U3A
Yeovil U3A

Val Warren is our Avalon Network Co-ordinator

Avalanche of ideas for magazine revamp

Joanne Smith, new editor of the U3A’s national magazine, is not going to be short of ideas for her revamp of Third Age Matters. She attended a meeting in Honiton of representatives of networks from throughout the South West, from Cornwall to Gloucestershire. Joanne explained her plans to give the magazine, which is published quarterly, a new look. “She was also given an avalanche of ideas from the South West representatives for which she said she was grateful and will consider them very carefully,” said Val Warren, the representative of the Avalon network of U3As in South Somerset. In the picture Val is on the left of the front row, and to her right are Joanne Smith, editor, Jill Nicholls, South West Regional Trustee, and Christine Knight, Research Ambassador.
South West representatives meeting
The Third Age Trust celebrates its 40th birthday next year and June 3 has been chosen as U3A Day. Plans that were discussed at the meeting to mark the anniversary in the South West include photography competitions, quizzes, exhibitions, concerts, ukulele bands and flash dances. There was a hitch in the booking of a venue in Cullompton that almost led to the meeting being cancelled. But thanks to some nifty last-minute work from June Brown, East Devon network representative, she was able to book the Beehive Community Centre in Honiton and save the meeting.

U3A pledges grants to back membership campaign

Val Warren, Crewkerne U3A and Avalon network representative to the South West region, reports on the 2019 annual conference and annual meeting of the Third Age Trust which she attended at the East Midlands Conference Centre at Nottingham University from August 27-29.

With a membership of more than 400,000 in the UK, the U3A is now bigger than the Women’s Institute, the conference heard. But only 3.6% of our potential membership has joined – which leaves 96.4% to go, said Vice Chair Hilary Jones. The concern is that our rate of growth is slowing down. To make sure that people know as much as possible about the movement, grants will be made available in future for regional support teams, workshops, training, group fairs and open days. U3A also needs to examine why older members are being retained, and why too many younger ones are leaving.

Chair Ian McCannah welcomed 433 delegates from 256 U3As, of which six were new ones, and showed the new logo to the conference. Incidentally, there were 28 delegates from the South West who were welcomed by our Regional Trustee Jill Nicholls. The future development of U3A, which is now the 22nd largest charity in the UK, was the main theme of the conference so I decided to attend the ‘Developing the Movement’ workshop led by Hilary Jones on the second day. We heard about the three to five-year plan to encourage growth in membership, inclusivity and diversity.

We saw statistics showing growth and shrinkage region by region and we looked at the age profile of the membership. Some U3As are under pressure to split because of their size. We looked at ways to welcome new members, the difficulties in getting volunteers for groups and committees, and ways to help recruitment. Good regularly updated websites, the distribition of information leaflets in the community and the use of social media all have a vital part to play. The other two workshops which I attended were on cyber security and learning modules which are available online through the iDEA Knowledge base.

“Our duty of care” message to Avalon workshop

An induction workshop for 16 members of the Avalon network of U3As in South Somerset was led by Val Warren, Third Age Trust regional volunteer, at the George Reynolds Centre, Crewkerne on February 8. Most of those who attended the session, which looked at issues such as safeguarding, data protection and the roles and responsibilities of trustees, are committee members of the U3As of Castle Cary, Crewkerne & District, Martock & District and Yeovil. The presentation covered issues such as inclusivity, safeguarding, data protection, constitutions, and the roles and responsibilities of trustees.

“We have a duty of care to our hard-working volunteers to ensure they are up to date and able to comply with all the legislation that affects charities these days,” said Val, who has spent her career working in the charity sector and has been a member of Crewkerne & District U3A for 12 years. Throughout the day she led a series of team discussions and case studies that explained the structure and the relationship of the Third Age Trust, the governing body, and local U3As.

Evaluation of the workshop showed that they appeciated the value of getting together, to share experiences and develop a greater awareness of recent legislation and how it impacts on the management of their U3As. Recruitment is a major problem but most U3As are adept at encouraging new members to take on committee responsibilities. Succession strategies were discussed and some of the delegates decided they needed to return to their U3As and encourage a review of their policies. “U3A is a wonderful organisation which offers opportunities to study, make friends and have fun,” continued Val. “There are no exams, no certificates and no teachers. It is all about shared learning. Our members are enthusiastic and give up many hours of their treasured retirement to support the U3A. We owe it to them to give them support.”

The South West region, of which the Avalon network is a part, has its own particular problems because it is a sparsely populated, rural area. Lack of public transport, lack of resources and rural isolation are among the problems that confront the region. “Our U3As are doing a brilliant job in overcoming them,” commented Val. The practice of Social Prescribing that enables GPs, nurses and other primary care professionals to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services, is already happening in the Avalon area and in this they are ahead of the trend.

Why doctors recommend joining the U3A

Many doctors are recommending to patients who feel lonely or depressed that they should join U3A, members of the Avalon network of U3As in South Somerset were told. Val Warren, who is the Avalon representative to the South West region, and a member of Crewkerne & District U3A, emphasized the importance of the role that it can play in helping to combat loneliness, mental health problems and depression.

“We have a duty of care to ensure our members can meet such challenges. Many doctors are prescribing membership of the U3A instead of taking a pill,” she told the meeting of the network at the Old Market House, Castle Cary. Avalon comprises the six U3As of Camelot (Castle Cary), Chard & Ilminster, Crewkerne & District, Somerton, Martock and Yeovil.

There are more than 1,000 U3As throughout the UK with thousands of special interest groups, offering the chance to learn new skills and make new friends. “We have so much to offer and many people have found that joining the U3A has changed their life for the better,” commented Val.


She reported on the sell-out success of the first Study Day to be organised by the Avalon network. More than 100 members attended the talks on the Jurassic Coast, held at Crewkerne in October, but there were many who could not get a ticket. “Not only was it a great success, but it also made a profit of nearly £500 for the network,” said Val. “This is an excellent resource which we can draw on to organise more Study Days in the future.” Such was the demand for tickets for the Jurassic Coast event that it was agreed to hold it again in the spring of next year at a different venue. Priority will be given to those members who missed out last time.

She reminded them of the importance of updating information. For example, too often databases did not include the names of new officers appointed following an annual meeting. New special interest groups to be launched by U3As in the Avalon network include aviation, wine appreciation, iPads, mobile phones, cryptic crosswords, walking football and Spanish.

Jill Nicholls, Regional Trustee, who travelled from Cornwall to attend the meeting, reported that there are now 131 U3As in the South West, which stretches from Cornwall to Gloucestershire, and her aim is to meet as many of them as possible.

Val Warren called in to help U3As in West Cornwall

Val Warren, who represents the six U3As in South Somerset that form the Avalon network, has been called in to help to grow the organisation in West Cornwall. She was asked by Jill Nicholls, South West region trustee, to run an induction workshop, attended by 13 delegates from five different U3As, in Truro on September 17. The feedback on what was the first such course of its kind to be organised there was 100 per cent positive.

The Third Age Trust, which financed the workshop, is the national representative body for the University of the Third Age, and it is using people such as Val to set up new U3As, troubleshoot any problems that may arise and train volunteers to act as trustees. The delegates, who came from as far west as Land’s End and as far east as Wadebridge, were taken through the main duties and responsibilities of being a trustee, and the steps they need to take to help establish a new U3A.

Val, a member and former chair of Crewkerne & District U3A, who has run many other similar workshops, also took them through 13 case studies that look at problems that can arise and the best way to deal with them. Issues that were looked at ran from a disruptive member of a committee to a group of people chatting among themselves during a talk given by a guest speaker. Val said: “They are based on true incidents I have encountered. However, I have changed the names!”

She represents the Avalon network of U3As, which includes Camelot (Castle Cary), Chard & Ilminster, Crewkerne & District, Martock & District, Somerton, and Yeovil, on the South West region. “It was a very busy day and what pleased me was that it generated lots of discussion among the delegates,” she commented. “From the feedback I got it seems what they most valued was the opportunity to learn about other people in U3As who are encountering the same problems.”

Iris’s double U3A retirement

Tributes have been paid to Iris Drake who retired on successive days from two posts with the U3A in South Somerset. The first came at the meeting of the Avalon network of which Iris was a founder member. Twenty-one representatives of the U3As that make up the network were there to say thank you to her for her service.

The meeting was held at Ashcott, near Street on April 19 and was attended by representatives of the U3As that make up the network: Camelot (Castle Cary), Chard & Ilminster, Crewkerne & District, Martock, Somerton, Street & Glastonbury, and Yeovil. And next day, at the annual meeting of Yeovil U3A, where she was retiring after three years as chairman, Iris was presented with flowers by her vice-chairman Stuart Vennard and Val Warren who is the Avalon network representative to the South West region, as well as being a member of our Crewkerne & District U3A.

Members of the U3A are asking for more courses to be provided to help them keep fit and healthy, the Avalon meeting heard. Membership is continuing to grow at most U3As, reported South West region trustee Jill Nicholls, and more special interest groups are being formed to help them study. But members are voting with their trainers for more keep fit courses as well as academic groups.

“They want to keep their bodies healthy as well as exercising their minds,” commented Val. She updated the meeting on the latest projects and training schemes being initiated by Head Office, and it was agreed to organise a workshop on such things as data protection, safeguarding and new legislation. An induction workshop for new committee members is to be arranged since there will be a lot of new volunteers becoming trustees as a result of the wave of annual general meetings taking place in the coming months.

“Thousands of members in South Somerset are doing their best to keep healthy, learn new things, share experiences and learning,” said Val. The next meeting in November will be hosted by Camelot.

Pledge to improve communications

Improving communications with all U3As is being given a top priority by the new national chair, Pam Jones, it was reported at the Avalon network meeting on November 19. Training on a new communications system is being organised at Exeter on January 11 and 12, said regional trustee Diana Holdsworth.

Val Warren, Avalon network representative to South West region, reported on the success of the regional conference held in Sherborne in October. One hundred and fifty members attended the event, which had a theme of conservation in the South West. With more conferences planned for 2016, four U3As have ring-fenced funds to support the Avalon network for training and development purposes.

Each of the U3As in the network – Camelot, Chard & Ilminster, Crewkerne & District, Somerton, Street & Glastonbury and Yeovil – gave an update on progress at the meeting at Castle Cary which was chaired by Tessa Gayford. In line with national trends, membership of local U3As is growing and more special interest groups are being set up, such as writing for pleasure, walking football, digital photography, and Chinese brush painting.

The induction course first organized by Avalon to help support new committee members is now being rolled out by each of the U3As.
Recent events which were highlighted at the meeting include:
Street & Glastonbury’s silver jubilee;
Chard & Ilminster’s 20th birthday;
Crewkerne & District’s visit to Newquay;
Chard & Ilminster’s planned trip to Spain

The next Avalon meeting is on November 21st to be hosted by Camelot at Castle Cary.