They say the first age of education is the journey through school, the second learning job skills or how to parent – then what becomes of the third age once children have flown the nest or retirement beckons?
How about enrolling at a university with a difference where the only entry requirements are learning for pure pleasure and joy.
For 25 years, Rotherham’s University of the Third Age has been providing educational, creative and leisure opportunities to those over 55 and no longer in full-time employment.
Run by older people for older people, the U3A delivers various groups and activities which are all self-directed. There are no teachers or academics at the helm and no distinction between leaders and learners. Instead, classes are run by enthusiasts rather than experts.
You don’t need to take a test to join or have any qualifications, just the desire to share skills and make new, like-minded acquaintances.
The U3A is an international movement which started in France in the early ‘70s before coming over to the UK in 1981. Along with helping the older generation to spend their later years in a fulfilling way, the U3A initiative has also helped many people overcome loneliness and isolation.
In Rotherham, a branch was launched in 1994, starting with around 60 members and five groups – art, bridge, embroidery, IT and lifestyle. Ten years later and the list of groups available had grown to 17, with members able to take part in the likes of yoga, line dancing and creative writing.
Today, there are over 440 members across the 35 groups encompassing all interests from arts and crafts to dance and fitness. Classes vary from weekly meetings to monthly gatherings and members can join as many as their diaries allow.
With more time on their hands once the age of employment has come to a close, many members choose to learn a new skill such as a language to put to the test on those welcomed holidays abroad. The U3A has four languages to learn – French, German, Italian and Latin – with groups for both beginners and those more fluent.
Others want to unleash their creative sides through photography, card making and embroidery. Due to demand, the U3A now have three weekly art groups where members can paint all manner of subjects and styles no matter their artistic ability
For those culturally inclined, there is the chance to read novels or watch operas. While those with an interest in heritage could learn from others how to delve into their ancestry at the newly launched family history group.
Some come to keep their minds active with IT or games, while others choose physical fitness in the form of tai chi or gentle yoga to improve suppleness and balance in later years. Those looking for something less relaxing can take part in the many forms of dancing available from ballroom-style come dancing, to country and line, and even the ritual longsword and rapper dance using steel swords.
Join the musical ensemble in the popular choir or singing for fun group, or nurture blossoming friendships in the gardening or grow your own group.
If you are already part of a small private or informal local group, you could even consider opening it up to more people under the U3A banner. They are always on the look-out for more co-ordinators to broaden the range of groups available or to host a second or third group for those already running due to over subscription.
Whatever your favoured pastime, there is sure to be a group or two for you. And what’s better, due to increased numbers, the forthcoming year’s membership has fallen to just £25.
Along with their weekly, fortnightly or monthly groups, the U3A also hold social events across the year including a traditional folk Ceilidh in the summer and a Christmas party at the end of the year.
To celebrate their 25th anniversary, they are also hosting a celebratory lunch in October at Aston Hall Hotel where there will be guest speakers from Sheffield University giving a talk about the highlights of the ‘60s era, throughout which many of the members were in their second age.
The choir’s resident pianist will be performing a medley of ‘60s tunes and some of the earlier members will be recalling how the U3A began.
For more information about joining the U3A or to see a full timetable of the groups available, visit www.u3asites.org.uk/rotherham