“People with strong connections to family and friends have a 50% greater chance of outliving those with fewer social ties. Friends can strengthen our immune system, help us recover more quickly from illness, sharpen our memory and even help us live longer.”
So writes Bonnie Vengrow, a New York based journalist in her article The Importance of Friends as you Age.” Based on her research on the medical impact of being socially connected, its a no brainer that you need people in your life to combat the potential loneliness of growing older.
As 2023 draws to a close, it’s a good time to think about the changes you can make to widen your friendship circle and embrace new interests. I’ve just moved from living in a country town for 14 years to an apartment, 8kms from Melbourne. I know no-one in the area where I live and getting connected is important. So I checked out University of the Third Age or U3A in this area.
University of the Third Age is a worldwide movement to provide learning and engagement opportunities for retired members of the community- people in their “Third Age.” U3A started in France in 1973 under the guidance of Professor Pierre Vallas. The movement spread to the UK where in 2020 membership of U3A was in the region of 450,000 seniors.
In Australia U3A began in 1984 and has grown to about 250 independent organisations with over 100,000 members offering courses and memberships at very low cost to people who are reaching retirement or are fully retired. While it is called a “University” don’t imagine lectures, entry requirements , exams, and formal qualifications. Anyone can join and participate, volunteer and make friends as well as learning new skills and keeping your mind active.
My local U3A has approximately 800 members and runs around 120 different courses each year plus a Saturday seminar program. Remember each U3A is different so check out the one closest to you.
But let’s take U3A Port Phillip as an example. Here are some questions you might be asking…..
How much does it cost?
Membership at U3A Port Phillip costs $40 a year and you can then sign up for the classes of your choice. Other U3a’s may have a different fee structure. Some have a minor fee for classes but the aim of the University of the Third Age is to provide learning and opportunities to connect at minimal fees.
A quick google shows that here in Melbourne U3A’s charge between $30-$65 membership fees. If you compare that fee structure to say The Council of Adult Education fees where a one day painting course costs $240, there’s no doubt U3A delivers low cost learning.
Where are courses held?
Some courses are face to face workshop based learning at local community centres and libraries. Other courses are held via Zoom and instruction is available on how to connect via your ipad, phone or laptop.
How long do courses last?
Some courses run for the full year (February- end of November) because they are skill based such as learning a language. There are also 2 hour seminars, film groups that meet at a local cinema, view a film and chat over coffee after the film. Some U3A’s have trips to the country and regional cities to see art exhibitions.
Who are the tutors for the courses?
Tutors are volunteers who have expertise in the subject offering. Tutors have to submit a plan of their course for approval by the committee of management. If the course is popular it will be offered again. Often retired business people, artists, academics and qualified exercise professionals will tutor a course.
How do I find my local U3A?
Try googling U3A and the council area where you live or contact your Local council and they’ll let you know.
Can anyone join?
The organisation’s focus is to provide learning for older people- so think over 50’s. There are many people I’ve met in their 80’s who attend classes at U3A.
What sort of courses are offered?
Without listing all 120 courses here’s a sample that U3A Port Phillip offered this year…
Auslan, Yoga at all levels, Languages at all levels including French, Italian, Spanish, Indonesian and Mandarin, Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, Bridge, Creative writing, Critical thinking, Dancing on Fridays, Book Groups, Living to a Ripe Young Age, Lawn Bowls, Fly Fishing, Travel, Majong, Singing, Ukele groups, Friday film online, Why Insects Matter, Fashion, IT skills, Wine appreciation, Warriors, Queens and Intellectuals, Play Reading, Photobooks, Reiki, Philosophy and Sci-Fi, Dragon Boating- is it for you? and many many more….
and remember… in most cases once you’ve paid your membership, courses are free.
It’s enrolment week at most U3A’s around this time of the year so find your local organisation now! Art and exercise classes are very popular and often have wait lists so it’s a good time to make plans for next year.
U3A provides everyone with a low cost, fun way to keep learning and meet other people, volunteer and have a purposeful, engaged older age…What have you got to lose?