Old age is not boring with U3A
I HAVE to declare an interest here.
I credit The University of the Third Age (U3A) with enriching my then 79-year old mother's social and intellectual life.
Mama had been widowed in her late 40s, lived alone, had never driven a car, and was in recovery from hip replacement surgery.
I had flown to the UK to be with her for the operation.
While she was still in hospital, I sat in her Brighton apartment and schemed: how was I going to help Mama get a life after this?
My friend Merle Packham, of Alstonville, came to mind.
Merle had raved to me about U3A Northern Rivers and the wonderful choice of courses and events it had opened up for her.
I went online, found the Brighton U3A group, and without consulting Mama, I enrolled her.
“Oh I couldn't possibly do any of that!” she said, when I showed her the information I'd been sent back.
I suggested she start with just one course, one hour a week: Conversational Italian.
She had lived in Rome after my dad had died, learnt and loved the language, and missed using it.
So along she went.
Three years later she was on the Brighton and Hove U3A committee, with the role of Special Events Manager (responsible for organising Christmas parties and Open Days).
She was attending three courses a week, and convenor of the play-reading group.
Now 91, she is still an active member of the poetry and play-reading groups, and sings in the U3A choir.
She loves it, and has made many new friends through her involvement.
“U3A is an international organisation, embodying the principles of life-long education and the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, in an atmosphere of mutual learning and teaching,” Northern Rivers media co-ordinator, newsletter editor and retired Northern Star journalist, Jennifer Somerville, told a Seniors Week group of U3A members and visitors.
“Each U3A is a learning community, organized by and for people who can best be described as being active in retirement – the so-called Third Age of their lives.”
Ms Somerville explained that it began in France in 1968, when legislation was passed that required universities to provide more community education.
In 1973, a gerontology course provided by Toulouse University for retired people was so successful that it led to the formation of the first U3A, open to anyone over retirement age.
U3A was introduced into Australia in 1984.
From the cities to the regional areas, these non-profit organisations were established to offer older people low-cost educational opportunities in a pleasant, supportive social setting.
There are no formal entry requirements, no examinations and no ‘awards'.
Most of the groups in Australia are community-based, but there are several, mainly in the capital cities, which do have an affiliation with, and receive support from, their local university.
The principles of self-help and mutual support are the cornerstone of the U3A movement.
Merle Packham recalls how U3A was such an important part of her life when she came to live in Alstonville, from Rockhampton, about 15 years ago.
“I didn't know a soul,” Merle says.
“It was such a big move to make, I was in my late 60s when I joined U3A. It immediately introduced me to new people and enabled me to make new friendships.
“I still go to courses now, and attend the Friday Forum. The tutors here are so amazing! They have excelled in their various fields before retirement, but go on teaching because they love it.
“There's no better way than U3A to make new friends who are learning just because they want to – and they want to go on forever!”
Jennifer Somerville says there are so many courses to choose from with U3A Northern Rivers that anyone who chose to, could attend a different topic each morning and afternoon, five days a week, and still experience only a fraction of what is on offer.
There are currently 42 courses being offered and enjoyed by over 600 participants.
Many courses are taught by highly skilled academics; some are just for fun.
An impressive number of local retirees have become computer-literate with U3A, through several beginners, intermediate and advanced courses – as well as learning their way around digital photography.
Other courses cover languages, music appreciation, book reading, table tennis and even ‘The History of Laughing', with Graeme Eggins – unshockable adults only!
There are opportunities, too, for men (and women) to join the Men's Shed at Alstonville, where activities include woodwork projects, design and construction; or go to the Lismore Community Shed, another well-equipped workshop where this term's project is making rocking horses for charity.
There are also two discussion groups, held on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Coming up in Tuesday Club in the next fortnight are Updated overview of North Coast Area Health Service Facilities and The Growth Behaviour Of Forests, while at the Friday Forum the topics will be Do We Take Ourselves Too Seriously? and What Do Women Want?
Members of the public can attend two U3A sessions free; then if they want to join up, membership is $40 for a calendar year, entitling them to attend as many events as they choose.
Each U3A is an autonomous association run by a management committee.
Course leaders/tutors are as far as possible drawn from the membership, although community (non-U3A) volunteers may sometimes conduct short courses or a one-off presentation.
In the spirit of sharing, there is no distinction between teacher and taught; the leader of one course may well be a student in another.
Course leaders are not paid for their services, but may be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses, such as travel, photocopying, etc.
Older adult education is nowadays considered to be the fastest growing branch of adult education in post-industrial countries. Undoubtedly, one of the most successful (if not the most) of older adult educational programmes is the University of the Third Age (U3A).
“It's our time to harvest life's achievements and enjoy personal fulfilment!” says Somerville.
Interested in joining U3A?
Call Julie James on 6628 7339 – or go to the U3A office at the Goonellabah Sports and Aquatic Centre or visit www.u3anriv.org.au