Learn, laugh, live with u3a

The dawning of a new year offers an exciting opportunity to make changes to your life and a chance to develop a new fulfilling hobby for 2022.

Spending time engaged in an enjoyable activity is great for your mental health and starting a new hobby could even help you reach your physical health goals.

But where do you begin?

Fortunately, the Barnsley and Rotherham branches of the u3a provide a vast range of educational, creative and leisure opportunities across their various interest groups for a nominal annual membership fee.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the national u3a initiative, launched in 1982 as The University of the Third Age with the aim of providing life-long learning to adults no longer in full-time employment. However, in 2020 the organisation was rebranded as the u3a to dispel any myths that you need qualifications or to be over a certain age to join.

While members still must be no longer working full-time, there is no lower age limit, opening up the u3a to younger adults who may have reduced their working hours due to the pandemic, illness, childcare or other circumstances.

The u3a offers members a chance to rejuvenate and resurrect old passions which may have laid dormant over the years because of different priorities. Not experts, just enthusiasts, the learners lead, and the leaders learn, working together to create a friendly and enjoyable approach to learning based around well-loved interests.

While some join to gain new skills, or revisit an old hobby now time is spare, others join to make new friends. For many who are perhaps isolated or lonely, meetings are the highlight of the week, with fellow members helping each other through difficult times.

Throughout the pandemic, when face-to-face meetings were put on hold for some time, interest groups continued to have virtual meetings where possible. Both Barnsley and Rotherham u3a members kept in regular contact via Zoom, WhatsApp, phone calls and their respective quarterly magazines.

Thankfully, both organisations have bounced back and meetings are once again taking place in-person, with some choosing to offer a hybrid approach with virtual and face-to-face options. All groups observe Covid-safe practices and are very conscious that the virus is still amongst us. The u3a cares about its members, many of whom have been affected by the pandemic in various ways. Masks, ventilation and sanitising are observed by all groups, with some having moved to larger venues to accommodate the need for social distancing.

Irrespective of the town in which you live, you can join either Barnsley or Rotherham u3a branches, or both, depending on what interest groups take your fancy – assuming, of course, that you can get to the venues where meetings are held.

If you find nothing on offer to interest you, both branches are always keen to hear from prospective members with requests for specific groups they’d like to see added to their schedules. They will each offer support in setting up new groups and organising venues.

Anyone interested in becoming a member can have two free taster sessions before deciding whether or not to join.

Barnsley u3a

The Barnsley branch of u3a was formed in 1986 and has recently celebrated their 25th anniversary. They currently have over 1,200 members. Annual membership is £12.00, with members then paying weekly subs of £1.00 for each class they take to cover the cost of venue hire.

There are around 120 interest groups in Barnsley. Classes are either weekly, fortnightly or monthly and most run all year round. The groups are spread right across the borough, with meetings in Darton, Mapplewell, Ardsley and Penistone as well as the more central areas of Barnsley.

From sport and outdoor pursuits to arts and crafts – there’s something to capture every interest. Learn a new language, go bird watching, make music with the old blowers, or take up an interest in cosmology. You can play board games such as dominoes or whist, join the crafty chat or knit and natter clubs, or even meet fellow food lovers with the posh puds or wine appreciation groups.

Sport and exercise play a large part of the Barnsley u3a agenda. Members can join a range of team games such as badminton, crown green bowling, cycling, table tennis, ten-pin bowling, snooker and even hula hooping. There are also some sports that are played at a slower pace, such as walking football and cricket, which encourage people of all abilities to exercise more. Barnsley also has eight walking groups which meet up throughout the week and visit new places around the town.

As well as the interest groups, Barnsley u3a also has excellent links with the community via Age UK and Experience Barnsley. They are involved in the Eldon Street Heritage Action Zone and some members volunteered as marshals at the Bright Nights winter trail in the town.

As part of their 25th anniversary, they were invited to take a new cabinet in the Experience Barnsley Museum at the town hall which was unveiled in December. All items have been donated by members of the family history group and include things like a hairdryer, record player, Whitby jet jewellery, and a beautiful black lace shawl. The items will be on display at the museum until early summer.

For more information about the Barnsley & District u3a and the full schedule of interest groups, visit www.barnsley-u3a.org.uk or call 07512 206285

Rotherham u3a

The Rotherham branch of u3a began in 1994 and today is made up of around 500 members who meet weekly, fortnightly, or monthly around Rotherham for their different activities.  

Annual membership is £33.00 which covers a period of 30 weeks of the year. This falls pro-rata to £22.00 for new members joining in January, and £11.00 after Easter, until the classes break for summer. For this, members can join as many groups as they like – provided there are spaces available – with no additional charges.

Like Barnsley, Rotherham has a varied programme of interest groups covering everything from arts and card making to gardening and grow your own. Performing arts groups are always popular, with a choir, country dancing, longsword rapper dancing, opera and play reading. A ukulele group was launched last October with a mix of experienced players and absolute beginners and is now a growing and thriving band.

Following the success of the walking cricket group which was formed last spring, there are plans to introduce walking football and netball groups in Rotherham this year. They are also looking for leaders to create new beginners French and Spanish groups.

This year, the Rotherham u3a is keen to build on the diversity of their members and is working with Voluntary Action Rotherham to extend their reach into minority groups such as the Eastern European and Asian communities.

They are also in contact with the University of Sheffield about a project to identify local properties, sites or buildings of interest that aren’t currently on a heritage listing and are at risk of being demolished. With the help of Sarah Cattell, project officer at the South Yorkshire Local Heritage List, members are nominating buildings across the four regions of South Yorkshire to add to the new list.

For more information about the Rotherham u3a and the full schedule of interest groups, visit u3asites.org.uk/rotherham or contact the membership secretary on 01709 374 841