East of England U3A Region

Your questions on Networks answered

All about Networks
Network is a generic term for groups of U3As which have chosen to work together for support and the mutual benefit of the members of the U3As concerned. They form organically and are not imposed by any external source. They adopt various titles to suit their style and their purpose e.g. link, forum or association.

What is the difference between a Network and a Region?
A network is organic in that it is formed by consenting U3As. It may be large or small, completely informal or governed by a constitution. A region is in effect a constituency. The UK is divided into 9 English regions and the three countries of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales for electoral purposes with each region nominating and electing a trustee to the National Executive Committee. In some parts of the country the network and the region are the same geographically.

What is the relationship between Networks and Regions?
It varies. Some networks have no contact with their region while others operate independently, but invite their Regional Trustee to meetings. In some regions, the networks are fully integrated into the structure and send representatives to regional/regional support meetings.

Do all U3As have to belong to a network?
No. Membership of a network is voluntary.

Why should a U3A join a network?
It provides the opportunity to share the load of running a U3A with others in the same situation and to look beyond what one U3A offers, to what others are doing. If your U3A does not participate, there is a danger that it will become inward looking and isolated as well as depriving members of potential
benefits. However, it is entirely your decision.

Do we have to join the nearest one to us?
No.

Can a U3A belong to more than one network?
Yes. Some U3As choose to belong to more than one network especially if they are situated on county borders. Additionally, in some places there may be small networks of, say, four or five neighbouring U3As working together inside a larger network.

Do networks have set boundaries?
Boundaries vary with local practice and are determined by the member U3As so they may or may not follow county boundaries. They may also cross regional boundaries.

What do networks do?
This depends on what the member U3As forming the Network want and can offer but it may include:-
•Developing and sharing lists of potential speakers.
•Maintaining and sharing a database of all study/interest groups in member U3As
•Organising network study/interest days for members of the network's U3As (and sometimes neighbouring U3As).
•Organising training/information events for U3A committee members and potential committee members.
•Organising support for group leaders.
•Organising shared learning projects.
•Organising an annual conference for member U3As.
•Establishing relationships with universities, including the OU, schools etc, for the benefit of U3A members.
•Providing a regular forum for member U3As to meet together to share good practice and discuss issues of mutual concern e.g. growth patterns, waiting lists.
•Setting up reciprocal interest group arrangements between participating U3As.
•Producing a newsletter.
•Arranging inter-U3A competitions.
•Setting up local initiatives.
•Setting up e-mail lists for speedier communication.
•Increasing opportunity to establish links with outside organisations.
•Sharing information on available grants.
•Increasing awareness of U3A in the community.
•Sharing resources.
•Offering a local platform for individual U3As to get their views across.

Do networks co-operate with one another?
It is up to the member U3As to decide but there are good examples of networks coming together to organise conferences, residential schools, study days and social events as well as sharing good practice, speaker lists etc.

How are networks organised?
It varies. Networks choose their own organisational structure. Some are very informal with no constitution or procedural rules, no committee and no bank accounts. Instead the U3As take it in turns to organise meetings and events. Other networks may prefer to have a constitution, which governs the running of the network and defines frequency of meetings, rules for elections to the committee, banking arrangements etc.

How are networks funded?
Many networks levy a small capitation fee on their member U3As. Others charge one flat rate or a fee related to membership bands. Some choose not to do this and ensure that all events are self-funded, but it is important that networks remain solvent. Networks and other groupings of U3As can also apply for funding from the Third Age Trust to hold workshops upon topics related to U3A activities, such as membership, newsletters, group leaders etc

What involvement does the Third Age Trust have with networks?
The Trust is extremely supportive of networks and recognises the important part they play in both the lives of individual U3As and the movement as a whole.

With thanks to North West Region