When you hear the word ‘university’ what image do you conjure up? The cloisters at Gilmore Hill campus? A gaggle of young students leaving the Queen Margaret Union after a night-out? Or conscientious bunnies with their heads down in the Reading Room? Any one of these descriptions could be accurate enough. But there is a group of over 60s in Glasgow who have challenged this stereotype and set up a university, of sorts, on their own.
The University of the Third Age, or ‘U3A’ as the group prefers to be called, meet once a month in Novar Community Hall on Novar Drive on the ‘third’ – get it? – Thursday of the month. And why? Because they want to meet, make new friends, and, most importantly, learn something new.
U3A exists as a nationwide network of learning groups aimed at encouraging older people to share their knowledge, skills and interests in a friendly environment. It is for people in their ‘third age’ and therefore consists mostly of retired or semi-retired people, hence the age range of the group. However, there is no lower age membership.
So how did they establish themselves in Glasgow’s West End?
Katriona Lloyd, Vice-Chair of U3A Glasgow West End, explains, ‘It all started about three years ago when there was a conference at the SEC on the theme of life after 60. The U3A had a stall at this and although it is well established throughout Scotland, at the time there was no Glasgow branch. After this, a friend of mine encouraged me to attend an open meeting for the U3A at Partick Borough Hall where they were looking for volunteers to help them set up.
‘I’d always been interested in U3A because I have cousins who live in England who are members of their local U3A and they would phone and tell me all the wonderful things they were doing and I was thinking, why don’t we have one in Glasgow? So, I attended this meeting and eventually I was appointed as Vice-Chair.’
There are about 30 branches of the U3A in Scotland, with the Glasgow West End branch boasting about 240 members. There are also groups in Paisley, Bearsden and Milngavie (which has been running for five years) and soon one to open on the south side.
But what do they actually do? The monthly meetings are open to all members, and consist of tea, coffee and a chat. Given the group is committed to lifelong learning, they also invite outside speakers in to give talks to the group. Recent talks have including a discussion around the preservation of the Merchant City, and the renovation of the Burrell Collection.
And that’s not all. There are roughly 25 interest groups that exist beyond the main group who meet up separately and at different times. These groups consist of smaller groups of people who want to do a particular thing together: book groups; art appreciation; walking; gardening; quilting; local history; photography; poetry; and wine, to name a few. There really is something for everyone and U3A are always looking for ideas for new groups, should you become a member. You could literally be out every day with U3A!
Last year the group ran a Burns Supper in Novar Community Hall which was a huge success. U3A members got involved in performing Burns’ poetry and toasting a haggis and there was some singing and speeches.
Membership of the group costs £20 a year, which is a bargain, when you take into account all that is on offer plus compare this to the hefty costs associated with doing a lifelong learning course at a more traditional university.
Soon after setting up in Glasgow, U3A realised that they needed certain equipment – a sound system, a projector for slides and a laptop – and for the last two years they have been successfully supported by Glasgow City Council through their local area grants.
Clearly the group are doing some good work in the community, not only in encouraging people’s interests and learning but also in tackling loneliness.
‘What fascinates me about the group is that it’s a really good way to broaden your circle of acquaintance,’ Katriona Lloyd remarks.
‘People can get quite isolated especially if you are no longer in full-time employment, when you are in the third age. I worked in a school for many years where we had 30 staff and I saw people all day and that stopped overnight when I retired. I like to talk so being part of the U3A is a good way of getting to know people.’
U3A are always on the lookout for local people to deliver interesting talks to their Thursday group. Although membership numbers are strong, they are always welcoming new members, they are keen on more diversity within the group particularly from people with different backgrounds, both men and women.
When I grow older, I’ve got no doubt in my mind, I will become a U3A member.
U3A Glasgow West End meet at Novar Community Hall, Novar Drive G12, on the third Thursday of each month. Teas/coffees available from 10am, meetings starts at 10.30am.