U3A and ‘the 5 ways to wellbeing’

U3A members having a chuckle on a coach journey

As a western society in the 21st century, we are becoming increasingly aware of the plethora of health issues associated with improvements in life expectancy.  Accordingly, the RSPH focus on health and wellbeing issues for older people has expanded too alongside topics of relevance for all age groups such as antibiotic resistance, alcohol calorie labelling and sleep.

Recent initiatives of particular relevance to older people include:

  • Research into dementia
  • Extensive work on ‘Arts and Health’
  • A focus on mental wellbeing in general, including an upcoming policy paper in mid-2018

The University of the 3rd Age (U3A) is an international movement which aims to provide education and stimulation mainly for retired members of the community; those in their third ‘age’ of life. There is no universally accepted model for the organization’s arrangement or size at local level.

It originated in France as an extramural university activity and was modified significantly in the UK where it is recognized that most people of retirement age have something to contribute. As a consequence, U3A in the UK places emphasis on sharing and learning but without formal links to traditional universities.

Members take responsibility for leading Groups, sharing their skills and life experiences: the learners teach and the teachers learn, and no distinction is made between them.

U3A is organised locally with each area grouping being a separately constituted charity with the ‘U3A Trust’ being the national representative body. In turn each local U3A comprises a number of groups of varying size providing a range of activities and areas of interest for members including academic subjects, practical crafts, languages, outdoor pursuits and leisure activities.

To date there are approximately 350,000 members in 900 U3As throughout the UK. ‘U3A in Kennet’ was launched in 1992 and now has in excess of 600 members and over 60 interest groups covering a range of subjects from bird watching and computing through to music, travel, walking and wine appreciation.

During our discussion with the U3A in Kennet representatives it became clear that the U3A organisation fulfils a valuable role within society in general, and for older people in particular as a means of providing:

  • Social contact e.g. via the regular monthly Group meetings and Coffee Club sessions (connect)
  • Physical exercise including walking, cycling, table tennis etc (be active)
  • Opportunities to explore new interests (take notice)
  • Learning without pressure in the absence of exams (keep learning)
  • Sharing knowledge and expertise; the opportunity for members to lead groups (give)

All of which align neatly to the findings of evidence based research on approaches to maintaining positive physical and mental health as articulated in the report, ‘The 5 ways to wellbeing‘ from the New Economics Foundation, October 2008.

I am pleased to note that RSPH will be taking forward the focus on healthy living and ageing and exploring further the relationship between the various factors in making further recommendations.

This blog first appeared on the RSPH website.