The University of the Third Age Armidale is a remarkable organisation run entirely by volunteers, offering more than 60 courses to over 600 members for a small annual fee. We sat down with newly re-elected President, Ian Jackson.
Why is U3AA so successful?
The most important factor is the number of volunteers who contribute. This includes: committee, course coordination and course leaders, office staff, computer and website maintenance, publicity and newsletter editor. Many members are prepared to share their knowledge and expertise with others. Some courses are ongoing, but there are always new topics and new leaders emerging. U3AA is a dynamic and flexible organisation. Members might suggest new topics, and others might come forward with good ideas and suggestions. Some courses are in such demand, there are waiting lists. There is no limit to the number of courses and activities members can enrol in, and the annual fee is currently only $40.
What range of courses is offered?
We cover just about every interest and activity. Exercise options include aquarobics, bones and balance, Tai Chi, Yoga, croquet, table tennis and bushwalking. Members read plays at Armchair Theatre, watch Classic Movies and share their travel experiences. We have a number of book groups. Members can study German, Italian, French and Spanish. They learn to play the recorder, join a singing group or attend music appreciation sessions. There are courses covering Philosophy, the Bureau of Meteorology Website, Genealogy, Cryptic Crosswords, Environmental Geology and Photography.
Members can also take part in handicrafts such as knitting, sewing, crochet and card making.They can play Scrabble, Mahjong and card games. Our computer offerings this year focus on topics requested by members, who then receive individual tuition. There is a women’s group, a Mindfulness course, bread-making and sweet and savoury baking. Tuesday Talks with guest speakers from the community are extremely popular and can attract up to 80 members. Our Science Talks, often with speakers from the university, are also popular. Other activities include bird watching, pastel painting and maintenance of ASCA House gardens.
When and why did U3AA start in Armidale?
It started in 1992 with a small number of enthusiasts and has kept growing. The first University of the Third Age began at the University of Toulouse in France in 1973. That model involved outreach from the university, and the idea spread like wildfire across France and Europe. In England the model changed, with U3As operating in communities and not attached to universities. The idea of the Third Age came about as people began living longer in good health after retirement and were looking for activities, to follow interests, learn new skills and continue their active lives. Now there are thousands of U3As worldwide and many in Australia.
We are very fortunate in Armidale to be the only U3A in NSW to have our own home-base at ASCA House. It’s the engine room, if you like, where many courses are held and from which the executive and other volunteers operate. Most U3As have to rent premises and hire rooms for classes. We have to do a bit of that, but having ASCA House as our HQ means the place is buzzing for most of the week and members have more opportunities to get to know each other.
Recently we were very fortunate to receive a $50,000 grant from Armidale Regional Council’s Stronger Communities Fund which, with some of our own funds, will be used to renovate our toilets and kitchen and also repair old termite damage in the floor of one room. We are most grateful to the ARC Administrator, Dr Ian Tiley, for his encouragement and support when he visited us at ASCA House and spoke at a committee meeting, as well as enrolling as a member. Using our own funds, we are replacing the sound system in our largest room and also plan to install solar panels on the roof in the near future. We are also fortunate in having support from a number of local sponsors.
How does U3AA contribute to the needs of older people in the community?
There is much evidence that a happy and healthy ageing process depends on exercise, learning new skills and social interaction, and these are some of the main benefits our members gain from our courses. There are no entry requirements at U3AA.
We find that many people who have just retired want to continue to use their skills and know-how. They join us and inject energy and ideas. For many, it means the adjustment gap between full or part-time paid work and retirement is not so confronting. Members who have lost a spouse or partner find it helps them to remain socially engaged and feel part of a very large, friendly and supportive organisation.
Enquiries should be directed to 6772 2752: email firstname.lastname@example.org web page: www.u3aa.org.au or call at ASCA House, 166 Barney Street (cnr Barney and Markham Sts), Monday – Wednesday, 9:30am – midday; (also Thursday 9:30am – midday until the end of March).