For many years, the London Region of u3as has run a popular 3-day Summer School at the St. Bride Institute off Fleet Street. This was not possible in 2020 because of Covid, and was postponed to 2021. The theme of ‘The Twenties’ was still very relevant, and luckily most of the speakers and walk leaders were still keen to participate.
Most of the programme was to be delivered via the popular fortnightly Zoom talks on Mondays at 5.30pm, but we decided to offer a one-day event after government restrictions were lifted in August to encourage members to meet up again face-to-face.
The event featured three talks, a live piano performance, and six guided walks. The programme quickly became fully booked with 140 applicants, indicating that u3a members were keen to meet again in person. Over half of attendees had not attended a London summer school before.
Thanks to the careful work of the committee and the staff of at St Bride’s, a Covid-safe environment was designed with socially-distanced seating in the large, airy lecture hall. The usual balance of indoor/outdoor sessions was reversed with so many participants out on walks.
The three morning walks offered a choice of studying London city bridges, a trail of murder, mayhem and medicine in the City of London, or Bloomsbury in the Roaring Twenties. Those who had chosen talks in the lecture hall heard about past disasters in London including the Plague and Black Death, or the history of film from silent movies to the introduction of sound in the ‘20s and ‘30s.
Attendees then enjoyed delicious pre-packed lunches in a choice of 3 well-spaced indoor settings or outdoors in the open courtyard.
Afternoon walks included a tour of the Tate Modern, a visit to the Victoria Embankment Gardens and its statues, and a walk drawing attention to the sounds of London. In the lecture hall we listened to the history of Croydon Airport – Britain’s first major international airport. Imagine Lindbergh and Amy Johnson both taking off for world beating adventures from this local airfield which only had grass runways! The day finished with a cheering piano concert including Blues, Ragtime and Boogie.
Comments on assessment forms included “Wonderful to be back”, “A very well planned programme, topics interesting and speakers good”, “Excellent day’s education overall”, “Good to meet people from other u3as”, “Very well worth doing and everyone I spoke to seemed pleased to be there”.
It was a pleasure to watch initially apprehensive attendees relax as they realised how carefully their safety had been considered. For many it was a first tentative visit to a large gathering for many months, and the smiles of pleasure suggested that they had really enjoyed the experience.