U3A is a great cure for loneliness and boredom

Words and photo by Dave Barry 

Scarborough’s branch of the University of the Third Age has over 500 members.

Since it launched in 1985, it has developed over 80 courses covering a wide variety of subjects including arts and crafts, science, history, music, literature, languages and physical activities.

The U3A aims to encourage people in their third age to come together and continue their enjoyment of learning in subjects of interest to them.

The third age is defined as a time in life when people have an opportunity to undertake learning for its own sake.

From the start, the guiding principles were to promote lifelong learning through self-help interest groups covering a wide range of topics and activities chosen by members. 

Groups are led by members, who are all volunteers. They don’t have to be an expert in a subject to lead a group. If they have an interest in a particular subject, there will almost certainly be others who will join them, so they all learn together.

There are social groups and many long-lasting friendships are forged through U3A; it is a great cure for loneliness and boredom.

The UK arm of U3A, based loosely on the French model, was founded 35 years ago.

There is no minimum age, but it is focussed on people who are not in full-time employment or who are raising a family.

The founders envisaged a collaborative approach with peers learning from each other. The U3A movement is self-funded, with members not working towards qualifications but learning purely for pleasure.

There is no distinction between learners and teachers; members can be either.

From its beginnings in 1981, the movement grew quickly and by the early 1990s, a U3A was opening every fortnight.

U3As grew throughout the UK. By 2008, membership was increasing by 11% a year. It hit the quarter million mark in 2010 and is still rising.

Today, there are over 400,000 U3A members in more than 1,000 U3As in the UK.

Although the Scarborough branch’s main enrolment is in July each year, people can enrol at other times too.

To join Scarborough U3A or for further information, ring membership secretary Sue Petyt on 864111 or email her on sue@suepetyt.me.uk.