EXETER U3A JOIN EXETER UNIVERSITY STUDENTS TO STUDY LITERATURE FOR LIFE
New Intergenerational Approach Enriches the Learning Experience
Exeter U3A members have been taking part in an exciting new intergenerational approach to literature studies at Exeter University, the inspiration of Dr Johanna Harris, Senior Lecturer in English Literature. Reading for Life: Literature, Emotion, and Community is an innovative new module taught in the Department of English and Film. It brings together final year undergraduates in English Literature and ten members of our U3A for discussion about reading and the impact of reading upon and across life. The module aims to encourage attentive, deep reading, which can be experienced by all, regardless of formal knowledge, and the practice of shared reading across generations offers the opportunity for enhanced meaning.
From January to March 2017, U3A members have attended weekly two-hour seminars but have not had to submit any assessments, unless they have wanted to, so it has been education gain without any of the pain! They have also had the option of attending the weekly hour-long lecture at 8.30 a.m., but as this rather early start is also before the 9.30 bus-pass, members have appreciated the comprehensive lecture notes emailed to them by Johanna.
As well as enthusiastically participating in lively discussion in the seminars, U3A members have contributed to the course blog and have worked with the university students on their community projects; both of these components are compulsory assessed elements of their university course.
The module has been a huge success. “The buzz of interaction between the students and the U3A members in this new module has exceeded all my hopes and expectations,” says Johanna Harris. “Not only has the discussion been consistently fascinating, with a diverse range of perspectives offered on the module’s books each and every week, but the discussion has always been polite, honest, and encouraging. Reading is a profoundly personal and deeply meaningful activity, and this fact has made our classroom discussions not only disarmingly honest on many occasions, but also warm and mutually enriching for that very reason. In my view, the intergenerational learning context has been profoundly rewarding.”
For their part, U3A members agree that it has been a wonderful opportunity to participate in this module. A range of comments reflects what the experience has given them:
“I am learning so much from all the other participants, whether they be third year students or my fellow U3A members. My bookshelves are groaning with books I have noted for reading after the course is finished, and I will never read in the same way again. I have learned to read in more depth; to communicate better what I have enjoyed, learned or am critical of in the process. What a gift of an opportunity!”
“I have really enjoyed learning alongside university students again and hearing their views. The experience has really challenged my mind; pushing me to read more academic texts again, as well as poetry and novels.”
"I have really enjoyed meeting the students and hearing their stories and interpretations of the various books and articles we have looked at over the term. What a privilege!"
“This course has introduced me to authors and styles of literature that I would probably not considered otherwise.”
“A wonderful opportunity to engage with a wide variety of reading experiences, life experience and world view. The contrast between age groups has been most marked, but gender and national origin also were surprising, even within the age groups.”
“Meeting and sharing ideas with people 40+ years younger has been fun and enlightening.”
All agree that they will miss the stimulating weekly intellectual work-out when the course finishes at the end of March.
The undergraduate students too have delighted in debating and questioning a range of texts each week with people of different ages and from different walks of life. One exchange student from the USA has chosen the University of the Third Age movement as the topic for his social research project (which is a requirement from his American college) because no such movement exists in the USA ....... yet!
Four fortnightly sessions of the Conversation Cafe have been held in February and March with enthusiastic attendance by Exeter U3A members at each of them. As with all new ventures, take-up was a little slow at first, but by the third session, the Family Class section of the Conversation Café was really successful, with 15 students and 9 U3A members taking part. Some of our members had previously commented on how lonely some of the international students are, with nowhere to go to ask questions about the UK and culture in general.
Sarah Roberts reports: “We were treated to coffee, tea and cake before we chatted to foreign students of many different nationalities. The students wanted to learn all about life in the UK and we were delighted by their enthusiasm. Take yourself back to your student days; how would we have reacted to conversing with foreign OAPs! The atmosphere was pleasantly informal. I was amused by the Chinese student who thought that I talked just like Adele - I had to go to You Tube to find out about her and was subsequently dismayed to think that I sounded like her! I guess that we all think that Chinese people sound the same and so in turn, perhaps the Chinese think the same about us.”
Jo Hughes, Insessional Support Co-ordinator at INTO, was very pleased at how much everyone had enjoyed the discussion, with many students thanking her at the end. “I felt that most of the participants could happily have talked all afternoon.”
More Conversation Cafe sessions are planned for the summer term, dates to be decided.
PREVENTING CHILDHOOD OBESITY
with Professor Katrina Wyatt and Dr Jenny Lloyd
On 30th March a group of 20 visited the St Luke’s campus to attend a fascinating and informative presentation by Professor Katrina Wyatt and Dr Jenny Lloyd covering their research entitled the Healthy Lifestyles Programme, working to support children to develop a more healthy and active lifestyle in recognition of the levels of overweight and obese children in the population.
In the early part of their presentation, the speakers identified background national data pertinent to the work planned and identified how this was different to previous programmes which had tended to concentrate on the collection of information, rather than ensuring child engagement, and the need to gain an understanding of how intervention might work across socio economic groups. Their goal was behaviour change in eating habits and exercise.
Working with Year 5 children, aged 9 -10 years, the programme focussed on positive relationships with the child, the school and the family. Methods to encourage children to gain parents’ support for change and adaptation of diet and exercise were central. As motivation it was considered essential that the experience should be enjoyable and an important contribution to this was achieved through involvement and collaboration with a group of four young actors through interactive drama.
At the start of the trial key measurements were taken of the children’s weight and height, waist circumference and percentage body fat, and their activity levels. These measurements were then repeated after 12 months, 18 months and 24 months.
A pilot was run with six Primary Schools in Exeter before the main research took place, to assess feasibility and acceptability. Crucial factors were the supportive context, personal goals, involvement in the Healthy Lifestyle week and activities to reinforce the key message. Children participating kept a record of their own snack food and drink intake and their level of activity, during the week and at weekends. In order that an unfair burden should not be put on teachers taking part, an ‘external’ co-ordinator was carefully selected and appointed to work in each school.
In the main trial, from the 125 Primary schools in Devon and Plymouth, 32 schools were selected, 16 where intervention would take place and 16 as the control group. A minimum of 20 children in Year 5 in each school was essential to the selection. The trial was split so that it was carried out over two separate years. A Year 5 teacher and a parent were included as representatives on the steering committee. Procedures instigated in the pilot trial were carried forward.
Children were introduced to new ‘healthy’ foods, and had a wonderful time working with the young actors who adopted four key characters with whom participating children could identify and inter relate. Dance, and the opportunity to work with members of Exeter Chiefs Community team, also contributed to the programme. To strengthen the engagement of parents, they were invited into school to see presentations and performance by the children at intervals during the trial. Each child had a ‘contract’ setting out their goals which parents also monitored.
A very high proportion of those taking part continued throughout the trial, over 90%. There was seen to be no differential engagement dependant on socio economic background. However, over the 24 month period there was no evidence of significance between the intervention group and the control group!
Following the presentation, a lively discussion took place, looking at possible reasons to explain this result. Issues relating to supermarket marketing of foodstuffs featured prominently, the benefit of meal preparation from basic ingredients, but also the need to recognise time pressures on parents. One contributor suggested that there should be OFSTED assessment of obesity in each school! Recognition was made of initiatives already taking place in some schools. It was felt a much longer research programme would be necessary to effect lasting change.
Altogether this was a most stimulating morning!
TOURIST BEHAVIOUR IN RETIREMENT: A LIFE COURSE PERSPECTIVE, 10th April 2017
Twenty-five members attended this presentation by Professor Gareth Shaw, Dr Paul Cleave and Dr Isobel Cloquet.
This seminar addressed the questions of the effect of retirement on holiday-making, how this effect comes about and the relationship to post-retirement wellbeing.
Several of our members took part in the survey and the biographical reviews associated with this project.
The slides presented at the seminar can be viewed in the Links section: Tourism & Retirement
IT NEVER RAINS BUT IT POURS! WATER: TOO LITTLE OR TOO MUCH, 16 May, 2017
With Rebecca Pearce & Stewart Barr
The presentation consisted of 2 parts, with Rebecca talking about droughts and Stewart about flooding, which often follows.
Both are members of the University’s Geography department, the second largest in the UK, with Rebecca’s specialist area being social sciences and human geographics, while Stewart’s particular interest was in practical ways to help communities to avoid flooding where possible, and deal with the aftermath if it occurs.
A drought is defined meteorologically in the UK as a period of 6 weeks with below average or no rainfall. In the past 150 years there have been 18 severe droughts in the UK, but the frequency is increasing as 8 of these have occurred in the last 50 years.
One surprising fact was the frequency of winter droughts, a particular problem in the south east of England
Rebecca explained that there is a large body of data such as river flow records, and other information kept by the Environment Agency, water companies & the Met Office. However, her project aims to bring together historical social data from sources such as personal testimonies and newspapers, in an effort to manage droughts in future.
She uses audio diaries of people with vivid & direct memories of droughts, and a particularly memorable one was that of Ken Spalding. He was at Tamar Lakes during the summer of 1976, and described graphically how the law of unintended consequences came into play. As water in the area was scarce, it was decided to pump water from the lower lake to the upper one, from where it was piped to Torrington to be made fit for human consumption. Unfortunately the pipe used was made of black plastic, with the result that the water got so hot in transit that it killed the fish in the River Torridge when arrived there. He also recalled how, when Dennis Healey, the minister for drought, visited the area, red arrows were laid along the hedges to direct his helicopter.
Stewart was closely involved in the preparation of the Crediton Flood Resilience group, published in 2015. By asking residents to mark on a large scale map areas where flooding had occurred, it became obvious that the threat now comes mainly from flash floods and field run-off, which causes surface water flooding, rather than the river flooding assumed by the Environment Agency.
He explained that there are many ways of mitigating flood risk, citing the work carried out to slow the flow of the River Barle to lessen the risk to Pickering. This type of management would not be practical for Exeter due to huge catchment area of the Exe & its tributaries.
It was quite disheartening to find that houses are built on flood plains as that land is usually less productive & cheaper, but at present there is no obligation for a council to take independent advice when granting planning permission. In the best scenario, new developments would have sustainable drainage systems which were adopted by the water companies but this not being done at present.
A thoroughly interesting & thought-provoking afternoon.
INTERSESSIONAL CONVERSATION CAFE REPORT
Term 3, Academic year 2016/17
Café Convenors: Jo Hughes [Insessional Team], Trudi Learmouth [U3A]
Report on the Sessions
1. In Term 3, the Conversation was run by Insessional in collaboration with U3A with no active input from INTO support services. This meant that the students invited were those who attended the Insessional General English suite of courses. Refreshments were financed by the University International Section, via Sue O’Hara. I would like to record my thanks to Sue for providing the refreshments, and to Al in the INTO Café who very kindly let us have the flasks of hot water for the hot drinks. Finally, I would like to thank INTO for providing us with the room for the café.
2. 4 Conversation Cafes were held in Room: 1.02 from 1500 – 1630 on the following dates:
10/05, 24/05, 07/06, 14/06.
3. Attendance averaged approximately 16 people, with 4 or 5 members of the U3A and the rest being University students. Attendance dropped in the second half of Term 3, which coincided with Ramadan.
4. Initially, each session was given a theme, but in reality, neither side needed any such aid for the conversations to take place: in any given afternoon, topics could range from food to politics to customs to history. Students had many questions and thoroughly enjoyed the informal interactions.
GIRLS, WOMEN AND CINEMA: IMAGES, MEMORIES AND FANTASIES, 21 June 2017
Despite the title, 25 female and male members attended this event, which was hosted by staff and students of the Film Studies faculty.
Dr Danielle Hipkins presented her research into Italian women's memories of attending cinema as girls in the 1950s. Dr Fiona Handyside focused on female film stars of that period, mostly volumptuous Italians like Sophia Loren, and some with alternative feminine appeal like Audrey Hepburn. Illustrated with audio-visual excerpts, things "hotted up" inside to match soaring outdoor temperatures as we were reminded that many major female roles portrayed women of immoral means! A theme which continues to be popular today with Pretty Woman and Lost in Translation.
We were challenged to name successful female film directors and reminded that Kathryn Bigelow won the first Oscar for a female director in 2010. Only a tiny proportion of directors, producers and writers are female, although in France 33% are. We learned this has been achieved by French support for Film Directing studies.
We then divided into groups to discuss our own experiences from childhood.
Our memories of attending cinema when young reflected our postwar "grey" environment, and revealed that escapism was a common motivation. We were awed by swashbuckling heroes and transported to unimaginable landscapes in American westerns. Which female roles we admired varied from screen goddesses to the girl next door, and whether we enjoyed indulging our fantasies or identifying with a more realistic heroine.
Some focused on girls' roles in film. Often mature for their years, yet appealingly vulnerable like Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet and Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz, and later with Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver. Groups concluded that technology now brings multiple visual media into our homes and that film viewing is a predominantly small screen experience with distractions.
INTERGENERATIONAL PERSPECTIVES ON BREXIT, 29th June 2017
Twelve members of Exeter U3A attended this event along with students from West Exe School and St Luke's School at the Innovation Centre of the University of Exeter. The session was moderated by Dr Sarah Cooper of the Politics Department.
Dr Cooper started off with a brief history of how the EU was born out of the post-war with the goal of a) preventing wars b) trading in crops and industry like cars and medicines and c) social matters. This started with The Schuman Plan in 1950 followed by the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952 and then The European Economic Community in 1957. This ultimately led to what we have today which is the European Union. Dr. Copper then explained the three main branches of the EU: The Executive (European Commission and Council), the Legislature (European Parliament) and The European Court of Justice.
Following these explanations, Dr Cooper presented the pre-election 2017 positions of Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn and Tim Fallon on three issues: Law, Immigration and Trade and we were asked to vote which we preferred. The votes of the students along with the U3A representatives supported Fallon followed by Corbyn and then May.
After lunch, the students were broken into groups and each Group had to make a presentation of what they would do if they were the Government and the U3A members would question the groups and then vote on their preferred group. It should be said that some students had a good grasp of what Brexit means while some only did about certain issues like the environment or refugees but not the trade issues, The winning Group from West of Exe School had a very sound presentation of the issues and were worthy winners.
HUNTING ALIENS ON EXOPLANETS, or Looking for life forms in far-away places.
That was the theme of an intriguing talk by Dr Nathan Mayne, Senior Lecturer in Astrophysics at the University of Exeter, given on 7 July as part of the programme of U3A/Uni liaison activities. Be warned: this short report is written by a non-scientist.
Dr Mayne’s research is focused on identifying planets outside our solar system – exoplanets – which may support life forms of similar complexity to humans. He ran through a series of characteristics that might indicate the conditions to sustain complex life forms, such as the atmospheric state of a planet, the availability of oxygen and water, and climates which permit habitable conditions. Crucially, changes in the atmospheric make-up could indicate the presence of life forms – as in the way we humans are currently messing up our own planet’s climate by overproduction of carbon emissions. The methodology is difficult enough, and finding the evidence even more so.
If you didn’t come to the talk you missed an excellent, informative and visually attractive presentation. However, you can catch up by watching Dr Mayne’s TEDx talk at www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYx-IaOXiug or visiting his web page at www.astro.ex.ac.uk/people/nathan/ . And he encourages everyone, in the interests of saving the Earth, to plant a tree!
CARE PROJECT WORKSHOP
On 4th and 5th July members of the University Liaison team were invited to take part in a two-day workshop at Reed Hall on the Streatham Campus on the subject of Care. This was the AAH Care project bringing together the fields of archaeology, anthropology and history. Maggie Teuten and I were joined by representatives of the University of Exeter and Oxford Brookes, Devon Carers, RAMM, Exeter Phoenix and some individual carers. This workshop was the first stage of an application to the Wellcome Foundation for funding of £1.5 million for a five-year project. Discussions were varied and fascinating but it was clear that we needed to ‘make the hidden people visible’. We talked about how we can learn from how people were cared for in the past in order to inform our future caring, how to educate our young people about caring and indeed how to raise the profile of caring in our modern world.
It is hoped that U3A members will become involved in research at the next stage of the project, possibly at the end of this year.
THE U3A: A YOUNG VIEW FROM ACROSS THE POND
(By a Kenyon exchange student who did Johanna Harris's Reading for Life Module: see earlier report)
After 9 years abroad, Maggie returned home to Exeter in a new age: her “third age.” “I’d been running this organization, and doing a Master’s, and then, I was retiring.” Her traditional career researching “Adult Ed” was over—
“What?” asks a friend at an upstairs table at Tea on the Green.
“Adult Ed” Maggie clarifies. “Adult Education.”
“I’m sorry! I thought you said Addled Ed! That’s quite—”
“Probably true, yeah.” They laugh.
Maggie’s career, as we usually understand careers, was coming to a close, but her work was not. “I also had elderly parents.” She means by elderly, in this circumstance and others, someone not identifiable by their age but by their condition, someone whose age has had a significant structural effect on them mentally or physically. She was returning home to help care for her parents. “But I was going to die if I was only looking after people.” She would need society, but many of her friends had moved, pushed and pulled elsewhere by their own careers and families. “When I came back so many people had left Exeter, for various things. I had people around, but not specifically in the city.”
Linda had plenty of friends in Exeter, and had lived in the area all her life. She was missing another type of engagement at the moment of her retirement.
“I very rarely felt intellectually stretched in my job,” recalls Linda. She’d been working as a legal secretary, and had formed a retirement plan far in advance. “I’ve had asthma all my life. Statistically people like me don’t last very long. When I was working I would get home in the evening completely dead, well,” she pauses, laughing. “95% dead!” She wanted to ensure that she had time in her life to pursue her interests: “photography, for instance, and biking. I’ve always enjoyed writing.” When she retired, she was on the lookout for an institution that would help her progress in those things unavailable to her in the corporate world.
Maggie and Linda are now members of the U3A, the University of the Third Age, a “self-help” society for the retired determined to demonstrate that life does not end with a career. The U3A seeks to use the energy and potential of a demographic frequently overlooked in terms of those resources. Organized as more of a “movement” (u3a.org) led by a trust than as an organization or institution, the various non-profits operating under the same base principles and the same name create opportunities by and for people in their “third age,” which focuses more on a stage of life, where members are past their careers and parenting responsibilities, than a specific age group. The website verifies that “there is no lower age for membership,” however Trudi, the public relations officer in the autonomously run Exeter chapter, admits the nature of the program is “self-selecting” for retirees “55+.” Membership here in Exeter is usually £20, which grants access to “over sixty groups,” including walking groups and craft classes, as well as seminar and lecture programs in conjunction with the University, and, this term, the first joint U3A member/student module in Exeter, a seminar comprised of undergraduates, a current faculty member, and ten retirees, granting the classroom an age-based diversity almost unseen in both academic and professional spheres.
The Trust has a number of inter-related objectives, including making “those in their later years aware of their intellectual, cultural and aesthetic potentialities,” “creating resources for the development and intensification of their lives,” as well as “educating British society at large of the worth of the retired.” The U3A’s main focus is not to provide a service to retirees, but to alter the very notions of what retirement and advanced age mean in the minds of its members and the country. The Trust’s mission, at its core, is to establish a firmer sense of worth in people by way of intrinsic rather than economic value.
The fight against disregarding the retired or aged occurs even among older people, and the very membership of the U3A. “We were out walking with the Ramblers,” Linda recalls. The Ramblers are a local walking group. “There’s a bit of overlap [between the Ramblers and the U3A.] There was a couple there, who I don’t know, they had only recently come from somewhere else, the North or somewhere. Chris, the female part, said her husband joined at her behest. He’s only been on one activity and refuses point blank to do anything more. I asked why. John said, and he put it very bluntly, because they,” the membership, “are all old.”
“We’ve heard it so many times from men—” Trudi, notes.
Linda nods in agreement. “Men particularly. He’s recently retired. He’s an engineer. And he feels that he’s over the hill, and has been plunged into a group of white-haired old crinklies, so the only thing he’s ever done is something out in Hampstead, like a walk.”
“These issues,” Maggie suspects, “come up all the time. It’s a question of how you create a balance [demographically] in the U3A, and why men don’t come forward.”
“It’s a national issue for the U3A, but also for every group,” Trudi says. “Men don’t join. If they join the U3A, they tend to join the active [activities]. On the whole it’s sort of two thirds, three quarters favoring female. Often men who are potential members will say either, ‘I don’t want to be old,’ or ‘I’m not a joiner.’”
Nick, a male member of the U3A and former chair of the nearby Exmouth chapter, has noticed this imbalance too. “I suspect there might also be a class imbalance,” he writes, “with the middle classes being represented more heavily.” He suggests there are other, similar organizations that make up the numbers in men, like “Probus.” Probus is a retirement organization that bills itself as being specifically for retired professionals and businesspeople, the word being “an abbreviation of the words PROfessional and BUSiness,” so says their site. Nick also indicated that the average British man could also be just less of a “joiner.” “Try getting men to join a choir!” he muses.
Whether or not the missing men can be accounted for, the likelihood of their being found in a retirement organization billing itself as a place for “businesspeople” is perhaps telling. The U3A appeals to people looking to be productive in new, nonprofessional ways, which could cause concern for businesspeople, maybe more so businessmen, whose lives have focused on economically based value.
The U3A must also constantly contend with the idea of its being for the “old.” Among women as well the organization’s reputation has been, at times, decrepit. “I first knew [the U3A] existed,” says Trudi, “because they used to use the college rooms.” Trudi was a teacher before she retired. “I’d see these very old people staggering along! They were very elderly. I think the demographic at one time was a bit closed, and it tended to be ‘old people.’” It was deterring younger retirees from joining. This changed, Trudi remembers, when there were suddenly a lot of young retirees. “Baby boomers,” people born just following the Second World War, reached retirement age, and suddenly the U3A “had a lively atmosphere,” inspiring even more of people from the younger retired generation, like Trudi, to “give it a go,”
She joined around the same time as Lynn, who had just retired from “community enabling,” which she described as “trying to get people with disabilities back into the community, trying to get people to get as much out of life as possible.” She agreed that her career was also based around “another self-help group…the same with the U3A.” The word “enabling” would also by all accounts be pertinent.
Fears of joining groups such as these being an acknowledgement of “oldness” or “elderliness” is of course steeped in irony, since the mission of the U3A is to attack the stigma and preconceptions of age. Testimony also suggests it makes its members almost younger, in the ways they care about, at least. The physical activity Linda does as part of the U3A and outside of it is, “according to doctors, the reason I’m still on my legs. My GP says people like me are usually in a wheelchair by now.” She’s also found her intellectual engagement in photography and writing groups. Maggie has found intellectual stimulation through the educational and community developmental aspects of the U3A, and Lynn and Trudi have become active in the movement’s music scene. Lynne marked the U3A’s importance in reestablishing “routine” as well as “keeping your mind active,” not only a more enjoyable state but also a proven benefit to health, staving off physical and psychological disease and boredom. All the members I’ve spoken to have also stressed the importance of the “social aspect” of membership. “It’s meeting people,” Linda puts plainly. Studies have found loneliness significantly increases risk for almost every geriatric condition, disease, and cause of death, from heart failure to cosmetic aging to dementia. The social, intellectual, and physical opportunities provided by membership effectively slow the aging process. Accepting one’s place among the “old” can make the members of the U3A feel and behave younger. A woman on the U3A site’s introductory video called it a “lifeline” (“This is U3A” 0:27). While providing a service to the retired, however, U3A is always “focused on self-help,” Trudi reiterates. “Especially here. The Exeter U3A is particularly strict about it.” Despite effectively “saving” years of life, or even “legs,” this is an opportunity, not an offering. This is a chance for people to save themselves.
The Trust is, according to its objectives, fervently against forming any ties to money or judgment. They promise for all involved “no qualifications” and “no judgment,” but also “no salary, fee or financial reward.” This is learning for learning’s sake, and its value independent of money and the acquisition of “degrees, diplomas, or certificates” must be preserved. So committed are they to that sense of independent value, that they state in their founding objectives never to seek out or expected any government aid. The organization is supported by the dues of its members and gifts from individuals who consider the organization a worthy cause.
This focus on the potential of the retired leads to the tenets of the organization less expected from a non-profit society for the elderly. Each member is encouraged not only to learn from their various activities but also to “teach.” U3A works on breaking down the barriers between teaching and learning, encouraging a healthy two-way flow of information and expertise. For this reason, the Exeter U3A has recently changed the official name of those teaching a given class from “leaders” to “convenors,” to further eliminate the idea of those learning a skill as “followers,” which might carry implications of complacency. “We didn’t want people to be led,” says Lynne. Taking a leadership role is “not compulsory” in Exeter, but is in other organizations under the umbrella of the U3A Trust. Those that do lead accomplish this by either taking a leadership position in another aspect of the program, or providing a “mental stimulus” service to retired people of lesser means. The Trust also asks members to “help organise assistance” to preserve the functions of a vital institution, such as “art galleries, museums and libraries.” This reinforces that the society thinks of its membership not as a community of the incapable seeking distraction, but as a reserve cultural and social force, ready to leap into action whenever a librarian is sick. U3A refuses to be a coping mechanism for the effects of ageing, but rather a geriatric justice league, supporting valued institutions and spreading knowledge for knowledge’s sake.
While proud of what the program does and stands for, it continues to be refined, financially and socially. “Money from the membership fees must be used as tightly and efficiently as possible,” says Trudi. “so where it’s going is constantly being revisited, and, when we can, we temporarily reduce the price of membership, this year from £20 to £15 for recurring members.” There is also another critical aspect of the “self-selecting” nature of such a program. As stated above, there is a gender imbalance, and “it does tend to be middle-class. Especially at programs in places like this. The Class system continues to color British life. We have some members from a working class background who would not think it appropriate to come to the university.” Like retirement, the class system demonstrates to people what is their place, and not their place. Concerns have also been expressed about whether the nature of the program favors the induction of white members over people of color. “The diversity is bad,” Lynn marks as the organization’s chief issue. “Lots of middle class people, and virtually no black people, as far as I can tell.” No self-identifying working-class members or members of color were able to be reached before the time of this publication. Exeter U3A hopes its work in “changing perceptions” about the retired and the inherent worth of people will apply to people of all backgrounds, and bring both the newly exiled and the previously rejected into academic and social spaces. Trudi’s experience suggests class mindsets are beginning to change. “When we do come here now,” she continued, “there are people who come along,” people from lower-class backgrounds, or who weren’t in higher education earlier in life, “who wouldn’t have years before.”
It is Exeter U3A’s and the national organization’s mission to bring retired people back toward the nation and city’s social center. They strive to prove that anyone, no matter their age, background, or status, should have the opportunity to learn, teach, and do. The organization’s worth is in demonstrating the worth of its members, not just as workers, but as people.
UNIVERSITY OF EXETER – POETRY, PICTURES, POLITICIANS: A VICTORIAN SHOWCASE, 6th September
On Wednesday, 6th September we gathered in the Queen’s Building to hear three of the University’s English Department talk about their research in the area of Victorian studies. I was probably expecting them to follow the well-trodden paths of Victorian literature, but instead we were treated to three fascinating talks on unusual aspects of the second half of the 19th century.
Dr Simon Rennie spoke about the influence of poetry on the Chartists, the first working class political movement, with particular reference to Ernest Charles Jones, a poet and, surprisingly, of an aristocratic background, who later became the leader of the Chartists. Simon then read a poem in Lancashire dialect written during the Lancashire Cotton Famine in the 1860s – a famine caused by the American Civil War. With the increase in literacy, poetry was very popular amongst the working classes and local newspapers would publish poetry regularly.
Professor John Plunkett’s talk was entitled ‘Victorian Picture Going’ but this was nothing to do with visiting art galleries! He described the various pre-cinematic picture entertainments which were popular during the late 19th century and gave several examples: multi-shot photographs of a galloping horse; kaleidoscopes; panoramas of the San Francisco earthquake; magic lantern shows of foreign travel; peepshows of grisly murders; phenakistiscope discs which turned to produce moving action; 3D stereoscopic views; microscopes. Because of the spread of the railways, these shows could travel to towns, villages and fairgrounds and so became accessible even to the less well-off. On a local note, we were told that a moving panorama of the battle of Waterloo appeared in Exeter, accompanied by a band playing patriotic music.
Dr Daisy Hay ended the session with a brief biography of Mary Anne, the wife of Benjamin Disraeli. She was born with few prospects for her future, but much improved her circumstances when she married a wealthy Welshman whom she persuaded to stand for Parliament. Thanks to her tireless campaigning he was elected and they moved to London where she entered, not without some difficulty, into London society. This was where she met Disraeli, a Jew by birth who had converted to Anglicanism. He had had many adventures and had fallen into deep debt but, with Mary Anne’s help, he became a Member of Parliament and eventually, after the death of her husband, Mary Anne embarked on a stormy relationship with Disraeli, finally marrying him.
The event was a great success and showed us three very different interesting, entertaining and unexpected aspects of the Victorian age. Many thanks to the University Liaison Team for organising the event and, of course, to the three speakers.
MOOD, THINKING AND WORKING MEMORY IN OLDER ADULTS, 20 November 2017
Sixty members of Exeter U3A attended this talk by Dr Jodie Rawlings at the University. Jodie presented the thesis she had prepared for her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology (D.Clin.Psy) earlier in the year. Her aim, having carried out an extensive survey of previous research, was to look at a programme which might reduce the incidence and severity of depression in older people (defined as people over 60). She described to us both the background findings, and her own research.
Depression is the most common mental disorder in older adults with 15% of us having significant clinical symptoms e.g low mood, loss of interest, sleep and appetite, and guilt feelings, for over week at a time. In older people, physical health factors and cognitive decline play a higher part in depression than in younger sufferers, who are more affected by their emotions.
In all age groups, people with a poor 'working memory' (WM) have a tendency towards anxiety and depression. The working memory is a complex form of short-term memory associated with attention and learning. Not just remembering a string of facts and concepts, we bring to our working memory our own personal reminiscences, views and perceptions and our auditory and visual capabilities. At the heart of 'working memory' is our 'central executive' which co-ordinates and organises information, erasing excess material whilst committing important matters to our longer term memory.
Jodie stressed the importance of this 'deletion' function. For example, watching a film, attending a lecture or having an important discussion would not mean much to us if, during these activities we kept forgetting how they had started; however, at the end, our brain needs to be freed up to concentrate on something else. We should, therefore, only retain the pertinent details from our activity, and 'clean out' the rest.
This 'executive function' declines with age, and research has indicated that some older people tend to retain, in particular, negative thoughts. These can arise from past life events such as bereavements, but also include more recent memories , from incidents which made us feel sad, worried, embarrassed or guilty. Some people with difficulties erasing material from their working memories – also known as 'impaired disengagement mode' - have negative thoughts that 'stick' in their minds and may find themselves ruminating on them repeatedly, leading to depression and anxiety.
Jodie explained that CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) which can work well in younger people but is less effective in the older age group, works by addressing negative thoughts directly. Her theory was that for older people, improving the 'working memory' by training it to eradicate negative thoughts, might be more effective than 'talking' therapies.
For her research Jodie, through U3A , recruited 6 people who all reported some degree of repetitive negative thinking (RNT); 4 women and 2 men ranging in age from 65 – 77. They were screened for physical and emotional function and then asked to engage in a computerised 'word game' - essentially an attempt to replace negative words with positive ones – developed by her colleagues Dr Anna Adlam and Dr Henrietta Roberts. Previous research had indicated the need to engage in the programme for at least 17 days.
Looking at the outcomes for three factors, Jodie found that working memory showed no significant impact. There was a small amount of variance in the RNT scores. Two participants' mood improved significantly and in one of them this change was clinically relevant.
Unfortunately the subjects' feedback on their experience was not encouraging; they variously reported the programme as boring, and difficult to understand, with the negative words being upsetting. The group was small, and it was not clear whether the mood improvements might simply result from interaction with the researchers.
In summary, Jodie felt that the programme had not demonstrated complete success in its present form but she had some ideas, were further research on this theory to be pursued, for measures to make it more user friendly and hopefully more effective.
After her presentation Jodie was very generous with her time in answering many and varied questions. There was some feeling from U3A members however, that although the WM concept was intriguing, depression in older people was probably linked to a whole range of social and experiential factors as well as possible cognitive decline.
HUMAN RIGHTS: PRIORITY OR COMPROMISE? 29th November 2017
Eighteen members of Exeter U3A attended this workshop which was run by the University of Exeter Law School Human Rights and Democracy Forum and was in three parts:
Professor Stephen Skinner spoke on the right to life under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the State’s use of lethal force.
Questions posed included: How do we decide on priority and compromise? And how do we decide this in the context of democratic society?
Also, what are democratic values and standards?
Are rights and the rule of law vital parts of our identity, or fetters on the state’s ability to maintain security?
Dr Christine Bicknell spoke on the prohibition of torture and inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment under Article 3 of the ECHR.
For the purposes of this Convention, the term ‘torture’ means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind.
Dr Jess Duggan-Larkin spoke about the ways in which judicial review under the Human Rights Act 1998 (which brought the ECHR into UK law) has dealt with state powers in the area of foreign affairs, in terms of the tension between upholding strong standards of rights protection and being deferential to state interests.
Traditionally, some areas like the foreign affairs power or national security powers, are reserved for government – so the court cannot intervene. But this has changed since the Human Rights Act.
We were reminded that the European Court of Human Rights is not part of the European Union.