You can walk right round Wales, and people identify with and enjoy everything it has to offer, returning often for inspiration, learning and leisure. Surely a good basis for a celebration.
Contributions throughout 2018, from individuals and groups, have included stories, art work, articles, video and audio contributions, and photographs. The connection between U3A members and their different approaches to continuing learning, active engagement, skills development and good fun has also been increasingly clear to see. We are grateful to people who were happy to share or adapt their own programmes to be part of the celebration or share material with us.
We wanted to paint a picture of the coastline and border by collecting and showcasing how it is used and enjoyed. Enough to authenticate and illustrate the range and depth of activity, the inspiration it might provide to others, and some of the experiences, skills and knowledge which make it an important asset for all of us.
We worked with the regional trustee from the start and with supportive individuals and networks across Wales. We created communication channels open to U3As and to individual members, through the Wales U3A website, a closed Facebook Group, dedicated email address, and a commitment to monthly project updates.
Early on we asked people to describe somewhere they would be happy to take a visitor to and why that place or attraction was special to them. A long list of places was quickly generated – everyone could easily think of at least one place to include!
This list identified key themes – from walking and photography to memories of childhood and spectacular landscapes, from towns and cities to mountains and beaches, from myths and legends to flora and to fauna, from art works and industry to history and geology.
The contact base rose steadily and a distinct logo was produced in consultation with those involved. We reached all the U3As in Wales and featured the celebration at a national conference.
Contributions were actively sought for six months although contributions have been received all year, with some people simply needing time to complete work that had been started. The platforms remain open for further submissions.
A key strength of the Celebration has been the willingness to accept and feature all of the contributions received – this is where the fine grain and texture of the work can be found. However, a number of case studies demonstrate the variety of material and the different ways in which people have chosen to engage. And they can suggest the forms of shared learning which became evident.
1 Dyfi U3A saw the Coastline and Border Celebration as an opportunity to re-invigorate their organisation. A group of members from at least eight different interest groups came together and produced a scale model of the estuary they live beside. There were contributions as varied as, for example, from artists who captured the flora of the Great Bog on small cards to a dining group who produced a booklet based on the towns and villages of the area and where to find good food.
2 Wales U3A invited contributions to the annual short stories competitions to begin with either the line “It was a beautiful stretch of Welsh coastline …” (for English language entries), or “ Ar draeth yn…” (for Welsh language entries). The individual written entries included many of high quality. Collectively they provided an insight into creative, descriptive and autobiographical talent among members, as well as the nature of responses stimulated by reference to the coast.
3 Flintshire U3A held a day billed as a Deeside Social, involving 17 different interest groups in activities ranging from outdoor sketching to music and song writing, bird watching to social history, quizzing to photography. The day celebrated what Deeside has to offer and also provided opportunities to try new activities or to meet walking challenges of various lengths between Flint and Talacre.
4 Swansea U3A focussed on a creative writing project which featured and promoted The Gower, reflecting on personal memories, the landscape and history, and the beauty of this part of the country. They recorded the written material generated through the year and produced a CD to bring the project together.
5 Pontyclun U3A ran a series of days along different parts of the Glamorgan Heritage Coast with walks and researched fact sheets linked to the different areas. In addition, each day included a visit to a heritage pub. This programme also helped this relatively new and small organisation to plan and discuss the next stages of development, which included the use of social media.
6 The Gourmets Guide to History Group co-ordinator in Swansea U3A researched historic recipes from around the country and produced a short guide to Welsh cuisine which gave sample recipes from each of the areas covered. This work stimulated a further response, through the project Updates, with a U3A member from Fishguard U3A producing line drawings to illustrate the written work.
7 The Crafty Crafters group from Newcastle Emlyn U3A, inspired by the beautiful Ceridigion beach at Mwnt and by the painting of a local artist, developed a fabric panel with a range of different techniques, to promote their area and enhance their collective skills. For similar reasons, the Art Group in Chepstow U3A produced a series of paintings in different media, mainly from their local area but including one or two individual contributions inspired by other parts of Wales.
8 Knowledge of the coastline and border has been captured from images and words submitted linked to the challenges faced by those intent on walking. A Walking Group from Carmarthen U3A completed a journey along the county’s coastline and estuaries, and then carried on to walk round The Gower. Members of Ebbw Vale U3A were stimulated by the launch of the Coastline and Border Celebration to begin a trek around the Wales Coast Path.
9 Amongst many individual contributors, who collectively played a very significant part in bringing the Facebook Group record to life, were photographers who captured mood and atmosphere in images related to many things such as sunsets, castles and the power of the sea; and through portfolios linked to industrial archaeology across the country, or to lengths of our heritage coastlines, or to the encounters and events and historic places in and around Cardiff.
There have been individual participants, willing to share outputs but pursuing their own objectives for learning through skills and creative development such as photography, writing, art, or exploration.
Groups have also been involved, some sharing close links and interests, some being much looser but where contact with others has been important.
The challenge, motivation and inspiration associated with the development of new skills or further learning linked to existing skills has featured, as has the practical need to become familiar and confident with different techniques including, for example, the use of technology and the value of marketing.
Amongst all this it is well worth mentioning the pride, enjoyment, and fun that has marked much of the interaction generated during the year. This has helped with the learning that has taken place and it has stimulated new friendships and stronger networks.
It has been good to identify subject matter which people can identify with in so many different ways. The celebration is for the coastline and border itself, but also for the enthusiasm, talent and expertise that underpins so much of what has been generated through a planned but open approach. We have a good collective picture of how U3A members in Wales collectively enjoy and learn from assets available to them.
This Celebration has also demonstrated how many different models of shared learning are waiting to emerge, whether they are specifically planned for or as an unintended consequence of walking, writing, painting, photography, singing, making and doing, reading and researching, visiting, laughing, thinking, planning, or reminiscing.