Learn, Laugh and Live!

Everyone can play a part in the future of U3A in Luton

In the last issue of 'In Touch' we reported on the results of a Health Check which was sent to us by our national umbrella organisation- the Third Age Trust. It was a useful exercise for the Executive Committee to measure how well we are meeting the aims of U3A - to provide lifelong learning for those who have completed their career or finished raising their family – people known as “third agers”.

We believe that Luton U3A makes a major contribution to the well being of our members by providing activities which extend your existing interests, or allows you to learn something new and enables you to make new friendships and feel connected to the community.

However, we think there are two areas where we need to improve.

We need to raise our profile so that we can attract more members and share the benefits of U3A with more 'third agers' in Luton- particularly those who are feeling lonely or lacking in purpose. The first ever national U3A Day on June 3rd will give us an opportunity to do that and you can read more about our plans elsewhere in this issue.

The second improvement we are hoping to make is to get more members involved in the running of Luton U3A and its many interest/activity groups. Our unique self-help ethos means that we can only be successful and sustainable if members are willing to offer their help. There are many ways to contribute:

• Helping to coordinate an existing Interest Group or starting a new one
• Volunteering to join the Executive Committee
• Helping at our monthly meetings
• Planning and organising trips, outings and social events for the members
• Helping to raise the profile of Luton U3A and recruiting new members

A U3A thrives because ALL its members are willing to pull their weight and put in as much as they get out rather than being passive recipients. In doing so, you could gain skills and confidence, share your talents and feel the satisfaction of a job well done. The Health Check Questionnaire suggested that we should aim for at least 20% of our members volunteering. Our current figure is around 12% so there’s room for more. Please give it some thought and talk to a member of the Executive Committee if you would like to know more.

As part of the Groups Liaison Service (GLS), one aspect of the need for volunteers causes me particular concern. Since I joined GLS in 2014 we have started 24 new Interest Groups, of which 18 are still running. Between 2014 and 2018, 6 established groups were discontinued. In 2019 the number of groups closing went up to 7 in that one year. Often these groups were discontinued because the Group Leader stood down due to their own changing circumstances and sadly no one in the group was willing or able to take over the coordination or hosting of the group. We appreciate that sometimes a group reaches its natural end at about the same time as the Leader decides to step back but it is disappointing for everyone involved when an activity has to come to an end just because a new leader cannot be found.

We would encourage groups to think about succession planning. If you value the group and would be sorry to see it discontinued (due to ill health or changing circumstances of the leader) then please think about how you could help prepare for that. Perhaps, other group members could assist the Group Leader for a while to learn the ropes so when the time comes for a new Leader some one in the group feels ready to give it a go. Or perhaps the role could be shared so that no one need feel too daunted. If you could offer to host a group once in a while that could also be a useful back up for the host or leader and give them an occasional break.

Remember that GLS are here to help too. So if you are a Group Leader who needs to hand over the reins in the near future then do let us know so we can help you to inform and reassure the group members about the role and responsibilities and try to find a new volunteer.

Finally, if you look at the list and think that it’s a pity there’s not such-and-such a group or that the group you want to join is full, then why don’t you offer to start one? The U3A model is based on peer-to-peer learning. Members learn subjects together and choose the content and the pace of learning that works for them. You don’t need to be an expert and there are resources and subject advisers available to help. If you have an idea for a group then talk to me or Gina and we’ll find out if there other members who want to join in.

Together we can ensure that Luton U3A continues to thrive and that we can all learn, laugh and live with U3A for as long as we wish. Thank you.

Hilary Corfan
Groups Liaison Service