Karen Attwood explains what is going to be out there for retired and semi-retired folk as restrictions ease.

I had my eye on Beeston u3a for quite a while. I had heard good things about it, but didn’t know the detail. Large groups of laughing people could be seen having lunch together, playing daytime tennis matches, walking and playing chess in the local cafe.

It turns out it is part of a massive national organisation, u3a, created in 1982. Before the lockdown, more than 40,000 u3a interest groups met in the UK every week, face to face and more recently lots of them have transferred online. It also turns out that membership is open to all retired or semi-retired people and there is no upper or lower age limit.

The idea is simple – interest groups, run by members for other members, all help given voluntarily. The u3a national body, the Third Age Trust, looks after all the u3as in the UK, providing educational and administrative support.

Although u3a formerly stood for ‘University of the Third Age’, the word ‘University’ has now been dropped in favour of a more inclusive sense of groups of people wanting to study or discuss a subject.

It will not surprise any local people to find out that Beeston u3a is one of the most active in the country! More than 800 members come together to enjoy 90 interest groups.

In June 2021, many members of Beeston u3a came together for a Virtual Afternoon tea to celebrate their 10th Anniversary. Several founder members spoke, sharing the most memorable stories from the last decade and the future was excitedly discussed.

This local u3a community kept in touch during the lockdown. Even though they could not meet in person lots of them learnt about Zoom and kept the groups going remotely. Hundreds of people joined in the monthly meetings from their front rooms. It is clear that this is more than just a series of interest groups – it is a supportive social network, with people enjoying life and passions and taking care of like-minded members who live just up the road.

Just after my husband retired and I slowed my own business down, in October 2019, we popped down to the Group Fair at the Pearson Centre. Before we rounded the corner from the library we heard the buzz! There was a very friendly welcome, rows of tables lined up and the hall full of passionate people trying to persuade us to join them. It was wonderful! Reminded us of a Fresher’s Fair.

Since then we have been experimenting with some things we haven’t done for years – Tennis, Cycling and Yoga. Also reconnecting with other former passions – Chess, Science, Languages, Art History and poetry reading. We have had nothing but friendly support and fun since we joined.

I have found it so refreshing to be much more defined by my interests rather than my job, background or even gender.

So, if you or anyone you know has stopped work, or slowed down, and fancies meeting new people and finding new interests, don’t hesitate to point them in the direction of Beeston u3a.

Many of the indoor groups kept going through lockdown and are active. Many outdoor groups are meeting up again, under strict Covid conditions. It is hoped to run the next Group Fair in March 2022.

Full details are on the website at www.beestonu3a.org.uk and we’ve just started a new Facebook Community Group page ‘Beeston u3a’