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Third Age Matters – Looking Back on 2020

My first year as editor of Third Age Matters has been overwhelming – I have spoken to many wonderful and inspiring people, although mostly, of course, by telephone or video conference. I hope next year to be able to resume meeting members in person when we can get back together again. Of course, I am totally reliant on members sending in their stories, so please continue to email me at joanne.smith@u3a.org.uk

Here’s my review of 2020 and just some of the stories we have covered in TAM:

North London u3a member John Hajdu was awarded an MBE in the New Year Honours list 2020 for services to Holocaust education through his work talking to schoolchildren. John, a Hungarian Jew, told the February issue of TAM how he cheated death three times in his youth – finally, by escaping from Communist Hungary during the revolution in 1956 to make a new life for himself in the UK. John said, “I arrived with nothing, knowing no one, and with very little English,” he said of his arrival in the UK, when he was 20. “I was accepted and helped by various organisations to start a new life. I am proud of my contribution to society. It is possible to get somewhere from nothing.”

In the same issue, The Archers actor and u3a member June Spencer revealed her love of Scrabble, playing several times a week with other u3a members. At 100, she told how she was “busier than ever”, regularly travelling to Birmingham to record the popular Radio 4 soap, in which she plays Peggy Woolley.

February also saw a brilliant new columnist for TAM in Dame Esther Rantzen, a campaigner for older people and founder of The Silver Line charity. In her first regular column, Dame Esther was full of praise for the work of volunteers and has written movingly about the issue of loneliness, which she suffered after she was widowed at the age of 71.


In the Spring issue, we followed the story of intrepid mountaineer Brian Fowler, from Lutterworth u3a, who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro at the age of 79. That wasn’t his only achievement. We learnt that he had already been white-water rafting and spent a day flying raptors as part of his u3a’s Extreme Adventures group. (See front cover picture)

We also heard in the Spring issue how u3as were already planning online activities as the pandemic struck: Long Eaton & District u3a cook-book group was planning a virtual lunch; East Renfrewshire u3a was planning a monthly quiz via email; the Isle of Sheppey u3a photography group was looking to share images on Flickr, while other groups were already using Skype for similar activities. The creativity of many u3as to keep in touch with their members during the pandemic has been an inspiration to many.

Bolton u3a was involved with a fabulous project with the University of Bolton to highlight the 1930s Mass Observation project. The Stitch & Craft group recreated one of photographer Humphrey Spender’s iconic images, the washing line, in which they knitted items of such as baby clothes and longjohns to hang on a washing line.


The Summer issue of TAM celebrated all u3a groups who were getting together on Zoom to continue their activities and other lockdown activities. Hundreds of members joined the Diary Project, in which they recorded their daily lives under lockdown, from clapping on the doorstep for key workers, making scrubs for NHS staff, trying to get groceries delivered, and taking long, often lonely, lockdown walks to discover nature on their doorsteps. Some of the memories were made into a book. A new online u3a was set up for new members wanting to join u3a – Trust u3a. This online u3a included groups such as the Armchair Travellers and Art Appreciation.

The summer issue saw the introduction of our new technology page by expert James Day, editor-in-chief of gadget magazine Stuff. In his first feature, James covered ways to keep in touch, from WhatsApp and Zoom to Houseparty and JitsiMeet, and how to do it, plus how to run a quiz remotely.


In the Autumn issue, intrepid traveller Victoria Doran, a member of West Kirby & District u3a, told how her year-long travel plans came to an abrupt halt due to the pandemic, but she ended up spending lockdown as a member of an extended family in Morocco, helping with daily tasks, eating too much and following Jane Fonda workouts on the roof terrace.

Newly retired teacher and u3a member Pauline Lenney wasted no time after joining Lancaster & Morecambe u3a during lockdown – setting up a Nordic walking group and an electric bike group once restrictions were lifted. “I’m really happy with u3a,” she said. “It’s an investment in my future and my retirement.”

Autumn also saw our new cookery writer, Beverley Jarvis of Ashford, Wye & District u3a, tempt us with the first of her regular pages dedicated to tasty yet healthy recipes. Beverley has written 23 cookery books during her career as a home economist and cookery writer, and appeared on the BBC with a mini-cookery series on Pebble Mill at One.

Learning projects have been covered in the Sources section of TAM, including the popular High Street Survey, which aims to map the changes in our high streets before and after the pandemic. Hundreds of members across the UK signed up for the project, mapping 20,000 premises in a matter of weeks. The project will be ongoing into 2021, providing a valuable source of data for years to come.


In the Winter issue, Croydon u3a member Suhail Aziz, told his life story in which, as a young navy cadet, he arrived in the UK to begin officer training at Dartmouth and met his English wife. However, his marriage to Anna led to him being thrown out of the Pakistan Navy, and so the young couple, with a young daughter, returned to the UK to rebuild their lives. Suhail has now written a book about his life called Breakthrough: Memoir of a British-trained Bangladeshi published by The Book Guild Publishing.

I look forward to 2021 and telling the stories of members and u3a groups across the UK.