Some frequently asked questions about the u3a
See below if you can't find your question in the following list.
What exactly is the u3a?
The u3a is a global network of local organisations for the older adult no longer in full time employment. Formed over 35 years ago in the UK local u3as can be found in most towns with cities often having more than one. All are independent and may be Registered Charities depending on their size.
When did it all start?
The u3a started in Toulouse, France in 1973 with members allowed to access University courses alongside regular students and this is still the model used by most European u3as. Since then, it has spread around the world, but as it has reached different countries they haven't all chosen to operate in the same way; in fact most of the u3as in English speaking countries have chosen a very different model. Here in the UK we adopted a form which could be thought of as 'The University of Life'. Here, for your annual membership fee, you can go to meetings and join groups, get involved in special interest activities or subjects that are on your bucket list of things to do when you retire or have the time to indulge yourself. There are no examinations, no qualifications are awarded, and there are no entry requirements other than to Learn, Laugh and Live with other like-minded people.
What sort of people join the u3a?
The u3a welcomes everyone no longer in full time employment and gives all-comers the opportunity to try out different activities. What you did in your working life is not important; of more value is what you can bring to, and take from, the u3a. We all have different skills that we may be able to offer to others. Variety is the spice of life.
Is there an age limit?
No. The only criterion is that you are not in full time employment so membership tends towards the older adult. Most meetings and groups are held during the day, so the u3a isn't really suitable for people with a steady 9am - 5pm job.
Would I be joining a local or a national organisation?
Your membership fee allows you to join a local u3a and you can then take part in all that is on offer from that u3a. Your local u3a is, in most cases, affiliated to a national umbrella organisation, The Third Age Trust, which exists to provide advice, insurance and resources to all the local u3as and their members. A part of your membership fee goes to this umbrella organisation.
How do u3as differ from each other?
Every u3a is different. While run on broadly similar lines the subscription fee can vary widely as can the number and variety of the interest groups which tend to reflect the interests of the local membership.
There is nothing to stop you from joining as many u3as in your area as you wish, but generally you must join each separately and pay their fee.
What meetings are there?
There are two types of meeting; Monthly Meetings where the wider membership can meet each other, and smaller group meetings where members get together to pursue a particular interest.
The Monthly Meetings have visiting speakers talking on a wide range of topics and offer any interested member the chance to listen to a talk and afterwards meet fellow members. The Monthly Meetings also provide an opportunity to learn about new developments, speak to Committee members, Group Leaders and book places for events.
Interest groups can be held as often as weekly but many meet fortnightly or on a monthly basis. Subjects are wide ranging from the educational to the more practical to the social. In every case whether the group is educational or practical there is usually a social aspect as well. A flavour of what we have to offer is available on our Groups page.
How do I join the u3a?
Have a look at our Join Here page where you will find all you need to know about membership. You will also find a Membership Application Form, which you can download, complete and return.
What does it cost?
Our u3a membership year runs from 1st April. The annual fee is set every year, but for the last few years it has been between £10 - £12, and the fee for this year is on the Membership Application Form. This entitles you to attend Monthly Meetings and to join interest groups. Interest group meetings can cost as little as 50p to cover refreshments, while other meetings can cost more if they need to cover such things as hall/room hire, equipment etc. The minimal costs are enormously attractive compared with what you would have to pay to attend college or privately-run courses. For this reason alone the u3a is a fantastic bargain.
Can I try things out without having to join?
You can attend any one of our Monthly Meetings, or one meeting of one of our interest groups on a trial basis. If you wish to attend a Monthly Meeting there is no need to contact anyone beforehand, just make yourself known to the Membership Secretary at the meeting. If you wish to attend an interest group please contact the Group Leader beforehand.
Can I join the u3a for the Monthly Meetings only?
Yes, a few members do just this although you are likely to get more out of the u3a if you join one or more of the interest groups.
Can I join an interest group but not come to the Monthly Meetings?
Yes, again some of our members do this. However, as well as offering some interesting talks, the Monthly Meetings provide an opportunity to meet other members outside the circle you meet in the interest groups, to hear about any developments such as new groups starting up and announcements about future events. It’s also a nice social get-together with free tea/coffee and biscuits.
Can I join more than one interest group?
Yes, as many as you like.
Where do the teachers come from?
A basic principle of the u3a is that of ‘shared learning’. There are no ‘teachers’, only Group Leaders who are u3a members themselves who volunteer to lead/facilitate a group. For instance, the language groups are usually run by a u3a member who is knowledgeable in the appropriate language. However, not all groups require an expert to lead them. In many cases the Group Leader is simply a member who volunteers to coordinate the group’s meetings, with no more knowledge or skill than others in the group. You do not have to lead a group unless of course you wish to.
Who decides which groups are on offer?
The members themselves decide which groups are formed, all groups come about as a result of members expressing an interest in a particular subject and there is someone willing to act as the Group Leader.
If I join a group, will I be expected to do work between group meetings?
Whether you do things between meetings depends on the type of group, and the time that you are able to give to it. For instance, if you join a foreign language group it makes sense to practise what has been covered in the group meeting. The Group Leader may in fact suggest some homework and obviously you will learn more quickly if you find the time to do it. Other groups such as a reading group involve doing some private reading and bringing your opinions to a discussion. Still other groups may involve some background exploration of a subject in advance of a talk or discussion to be held later. In some groups the members take turns to give a presentation – for instance a history group or art appreciation group sometimes work in this way. Such presentations are always voluntary, and you certainly won’t be expected to give one if you don’t feel able to.
What if members of a group have widely varying abilities or knowledge?
Depending on the subject, in some cases this does not matter, those with knowledge share it with those who haven’t, but in other cases this can be relevant. The Group Leader can give advice on whether the group is suitable for you, given your existing knowledge. Sometimes a group can be split into two or more sub-groups according to the expertise of group members.
Is u3a only about education?
No. Some groups are mainly social, eg. a lunch group or a coffee morning group. Others might involve learning a new skill but also have large social element, eg. a group that involves playing a game such as Bridge, Canasta or Petanque.
Where are the interest group meetings held?
In a variety of places. Small groups often hold their meetings in members’ homes – sometimes the home of the Group Leader and sometimes the homes of group members on a rotational basis. Sometimes small groups meet in a local pub or cafe, it all depends on what is convenient and/or available. Larger groups often use a hired hall. Much depends on the resources needed, and a large group may require special facilities and this will limit the range of suitable locations.
How do I join a group?
It’s best first of all to have a word with the relevant Group Leader. They will explain how the group operates, such as confirming when and where the group meets, how the meetings are organised, and the current programme of activities. You should be able to assess whether the group in question seems to fit the bill.
What if I’m not sure whether a group is for me?
You will be more than welcome to attend a group session a couple of times, to see if it is suitable for you.
What if there isn’t a group that caters for my special interest?
It may be possible to join a group belonging to another local u3a - see later for details.
Also, please do consider starting one as we are always looking to start up new groups, and it’s possible that your interest is shared by others. The first step is to contact the New Groups Coordinator to find out if the subject or activity has already been suggested by others. Usually, the next step is to put out feelers at a Monthly Meeting or via the Newsletter. If sufficient people express an interest, it is a short step to getting the new group off the ground. The New Groups Coordinator will advise on suitable times and places to hold your meetings. Putting forward an idea for a new group doesn’t necessarily mean that you will have to be the Group Leader; someone else may be willing to do this. There is plenty of help available when first starting to lead a group.
What if the group I want to join is full?
Some groups are very popular but there is often a way round the problem. Sometimes a group splits into two, with each sub-group meeting at a different time. Or maybe two groups are formed with slightly different aims or skills, eg. a beginners’ group and a more advanced group. In some cases the problem is solved simply by moving to a more spacious location but in a few cases it is possible that a waiting list will have to be formed.
Can I bring an assistance dog to the meeting?
Yes, an assistance dog may be brought to the Monthly Meeting and to commercial venues. However, where a particular group meets in a member’s home, then it is at that member’s discretion whether or not to allow an assistance dog.
Can I bring a carer/companion?
Yes, then that person will also be covered by the general u3a insurance, unless they are a professional carer in which case they require their own insurance.
Is there a pick-up service for members who need help to travel to meetings?
No, there is no service like this. Members are expected to attend all meetings under their own steam.
How do I contact other members in the u3a?
There is no general facility for contacting other members unless they have a specific role in the organisation. Any other member contact is a matter of mutual consent between you and that member. The u3a is not able to divulge details of individual members. You will, of course, meet other members at the Monthly Meetings and when you join groups.
What does the Third Age Trust have to offer?
Quite a lot; there’s a large range of resources available for groups to borrow or download. These are invaluable for subjects such as music, art history, architecture, history, religion and philosophy. There are human resources in the shape of National Coordinators for many subjects; their advice can be sought on ways to run particular interest groups. National experts are also available at an annual summer school, where members can choose from a set of interesting short lectures or practical courses. Many u3a members opt to receive a regular magazine called Third Age Matters (TAM). This magazine and The Third Age Trust website contain lots of useful information and members can also join national online courses in a growing list of subjects through the Virtual u3a for a small additional fee.
What's the relationship with other local u3as?
Although we are independent organisations we have a good working relationship with other local u3as. For example, members of Cotswold Link u3as are allowed to attend one of our interest groups on a regular basis without having to become one of our members. Neighbouring Cotswold Link u3as include Bromsgrove u3a, Evesham & District u3a, Malvern u3a, Pershore & District u3a and Worcester u3a. Members of other u3as who do this are required to become Reciprocal members of Droitwich u3a, though there is no charge associated with such a membership. But note that, if a group has a waiting list, our members will always have priority. All of these u3as offer a similar sort of arrangement where our members can attend one of their interest groups on a regular basis without having to become one of their members.
This ability to attend one of our interest groups is also extended to members of our other neighbouring u3as, namely, Alcester u3a, Redditch u3a and Wyre Forest & District u3a. Some of these u3as offer a similar sort of arrangement where our members can attend one of their interest groups on a regular basis without having to become one of their members. You will need to see what is available in other u3as and contact them to see if this is possible.
My question isn’t in this list, what do I do?
If you have a general question, you can use the Contacts page to send an email to the appropriate Committee member, eg. if it's a question about membership you can email the Membership Secretary. You can also email the Newsletter Editor or the Website Administrator.
If you have a detailed question about a particular interest group you can email the Group Leader directly. Use the Groups page, and then from the page for the particular group, click on the envelope icon at the top right-hand side of the page.