Learning Not Lonely
When Warsash U3A sprang into existence in January 2016 little did we know that we would reach 200 members before our third birthday! We now have over 30 Interest Groups offering educational, recreational and leisure activities to the retired community. So, what’s the secret of our success?
A major new report by the Third Age Trust, the national body to which more than 1,000 local U3As are affiliated, looks at the remarkable growth of the movement and the benefits of membership. Informal, voluntary and largely self-funded, U3As provide undoubted benefits for the physical and mental health of members. Its relative low cost makes it accessible to people of all income levels.
The report, Learning Not Lonely, combines a compilation of members’ testimonies with a round-up of relevant research. A survey of about 800 U3A members found that more than 90% of those who felt positive about their involvement thought “making new friendships and feeling supported” was a key benefit. Other benefits mentioned include learning new skills (84%); feeling healthier (55%); becoming engaged with the community (50%); managing life changes like retirement, illness and bereavement (50%); and building confidence (59%).
“My friends kept asking me, so I joined it and haven’t looked back. It filled my life”.
Some members had surprised themselves by gaining confidence through taking part. One person spoke of the danger of living in the past when you retire, and how participating in the U3A offers a new future.
“There was a time when I didn’t want to go outside, and then when I was out it took a lot to get back in again. I found coming to U3A I met people who had been in the same situation or worse and shared experiences”.
Preventing loneliness as a result of a bereavement or moving to a new area was highlighted in the report. A common driver to move in later life was to be closer to family members, but this also often resulted in losing regular contact with friends from their previous area of residence.
“Four years ago, I moved to a new area and decided to join a few groups to get to know people, the U3A offered the most and now takes up most of my time”
There was also a theme highlighting very specific health benefits. For example, the impacts on people recovering from serious illness (such as cancer or depression) were improved feelings of wellbeing, support and confidence, because they had been encouraged to share their skills. The beneficial impact of learning new skills was evident. Learning in U3A is provided by its members and shared amongst the members of the group which means that participants enjoyed learning. The opportunity afforded by retirement to take time to enjoy learning and, especially, learning for its own sake was valued.
“Being part of the group makes me happy… learning and interacting with others gives me a lot of satisfaction.”
“I always liked photography but it was difficult while working. Now I can learn photography with like-minded people. Whether a beginner or very competent, you can learn together”.
“There is a general perception that U3A makes life worth living”.