Recruitment

How to: make your u3a more inclusive

u3as have been sharing ideas with each other and coming up with resources to help the movement retain and recruit members during this time and beyond. This series hosts these resources in a toolkit for u3a members to use when needed. See the Introduction and Guide to the toolkit, and the full toolkit.

Credit: Croydon u3a

How to guide: making your u3a more inclusive

Introduction

Britain today has more than 12 million over 65s alone and even more when we count those over 55 who may be moving towards either part or full retirement.

There are many people who would join our organisation if they felt it was for them. We are often attracted when we see others who we perceive to be like ourselves. So how do we maybe begin to think about how we can appeal to as many people as possible, perhaps those who traditionally would probably not consider joining, or who have joined and then left? How can we, within our individual u3as, make it a reality that everyone who hears about us is inspired to join and then stay with us and become active, fulfilled members?

This guide has been prepared by Croydon u3a with contributions from other u3as. We would be very grateful for your feedback about this guide and we seek to learn from your experiences of making your u3a more inclusive. Please keep a note of your suggestions for improvement and send them to feedback@u3a.org.uk

What is diversity and inclusion?

Inclusion is one of the abiding principles of the u3a and as relevant now as it was in 1982 when u3a was founded. We should do our best to make sure that people from all walks of life are welcomed and made to feel included and valued.

Sometimes diversity is reduced to a discussion about ethnicity and the lack of representation from ethnic groups within some u3as. The response has been framed along the lines that a certain u3a can’t be diverse due to its geographical location. Then the need to be aware of diversity in its wider context is diminished. Diversity can be defined as a mixture of people, cultures and ideas that contribute to the richness and variety of life.

This guide aims to challenge the limited approach and to encourage the identification of diversity in many forms and as a result, promote awareness, greater involvement, respect and connection.

Recognising diversity includes identifying many different things, promoting potential, focussing on what will improve things for everyone regardless of who they are. This could for example be physical conditions (sight, hearing, mobility etc), neurological conditions, gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, a person’s educational background, their religious or political beliefs, their life experiences, skills, interests and technological expertise, to name some aspects. Some of these are protected characteristics listed in the Equality Act 2010, legislation that seeks to address some of these aspects by promoting equality of opportunity.

Diversity is a fact of life. We are all individuals; there is automatic diversity of some kind. We have to look beyond a view that could simply focus for example, on skin tone, and see diversity in a truer, wider context.

Recognising diversity in the world around us to enhance learning, group activities, and discussion, is essential. Using different and diverse aspects of life is enriching and can provide fruitful avenues for deep learning and a sense of cohesion and respect for each other.

Raising Awareness

Move the mindset – a focus on diversity can also often become a discussion just about disabilities. Change the focus to diverse and wide-ranging capabilities. Everybody has different experiences, abilities and skills. Find out what people can do, maximise this while accommodating their individual needs.

Spell out the positives of Diversity. Emphasise the expanded learning interests and the enrichment that will follow. Use affirming language – don’t refer to the ‘issues’ or the ‘problems’ of inclusivity/diversity. Refer rather to the opportunities.

Think about the language used – are you using currently acceptable terms? Is gender neutral language used when appropriate? Is your text (type face & font) easy to read? Do you offer large print Newsletters or help for members to adapt their devices or consider audio captioning when using Zoom?

Research

Consider whether your u3a mirrors your catchment area, within the third age bracket. In which areas does it not? It is likely that you will have more women than men for example. Could you look at a wider area that would bring a wider range of people?

Do some research – What is the % of people from minority ethnic backgrounds in your catchment area? What is the average % of people retired or soon to be retired in your area?

Does your u3a monitor the diversity of membership – for example by postcode, to identify areas or neighbourhoods which are under-represented?

Ask members with disabilities how the u3a could better provide for their needs? But don’t treat anyone as defined by their disability – we are all individuals. Think about the language used, talk to individuals, do some research – let people define themselves. Some people will prefer one term to another. Person first, disability second. Don’t expect that member to be a spokesperson for others with the same disability. Don’t ask: What do you think people with mobility issues would say about X? Ask: What do you think? You wouldn’t, for example, ask a member from Sheffield what was the opinion of all Northerners. Look at the Guidance on the national website.

Does your committee reflect the diversity of your membership? It may need to be more inclusive. For example, have you an acceptable gender balance, members from different backgrounds or with different skill sets, do you have some newer (younger?) members who will bring fresh ideas?

Your u3a offer

Enable trade-offs between local and regional u3as – share good speakers through a website, advertise national workshops and lectures on your website and Facebook pages. An example of this was the West Midlands week of events on Exploring World Faiths and the series of lectures about Japan.

Examine your list of Speakers – does it offer a range of topics? Have you thought about booking speakers who are from a diversity of backgrounds or have expertise on topics you haven’t traditionally offered? Do you look further afield now that Zoom doesn’t restrict a speaker’s proximity to your area? It’s important here to note that speakers are booked because they can deliver an engaging talk, not because their situation ticks a box.

If your catchment area is ethnically diverse and your u3a is not, you could approach community leaders and ask whether members of their particular communities might be prepared to offer for example a one off or more workshops on aspects they would like to share. Be open to suggestions: e.g. Punjabi, Polish, West Indian cuisine, Hindu festivals, Indian dancing, Bollywood and many more. This can work because the commitment is time-limited, it values another cultural heritage and it puts the person in the position of the expert. Some people may be 2nd, 3rd or 4th generation British Asian for example and their lives are enriched by cultural diversity. With trust, a discussion with older people from a different ethnic group/culture for example will probably highlight the perceived barriers to joining, but will also help everyone to realise that there are many similarities in our hopes, fears and shared experiences. Such initiatives may develop friendships, reciprocal workshops and begin to broaden your membership.

What experiences greet a new member – how are they welcomed and made to feel included? Have you a New Members Pack/Welcome Pack? Even if a new person comes along with an existing member, it’s important to give them an ‘official’ welcome and broaden their initial experience. Are your Groups open to new members? Have a Buddy system in place and keep in touch with them.

Be mindful of those without technology, this can exclude some people. Has your u3a support systems in place to help those who would like to be included but perhaps lack technological experience, are they aware of u3a training to help them? You might find you can include members who are unable/unwilling to leave their homes by offering a blended/hybrid meeting.

How does the Committee help those who remain at home to feel included? A phone network helps, cards/phone calls, emails, WhatsApp groups alongside the usual newsletters/updates. Group leaders have often now set up newer communication networks during Covid. Have you someone allocated to a Wellbeing Role who could coordinate and ensure all your members are involved?

Would younger, newly retired people feel welcomed and included? Would their enthusiasm and ideas be met with ‘we’ve tried that before’ or would you welcome their ideas? Do you give a regular opportunity to all members to suggest new groups and make sure they are developed so that new members don’t leave because they can’t join groups? Younger people may well have different interests/experiences/skills they could offer that could be attractive to different members? Perhaps they could offer something different that reached out to the wider community and attracted new members?

Hold an occasional stocktake of your Interest Groups – e.g. during (March) the book club were sharing a novel written by an Indian author; the Fine Dining Group visited a Vegan restaurant; there are 9 modern foreign language groups and a Latin group; the World Faiths group visited a church and a mosque; the Discussion group had a local tour which highlighted the history of LGBTQ+ people in the area, our monthly talk was about a local factory worker who had been a suffragette; the Wine Appreciation group were tasting Chilean samples; the Current Affairs Group held a debate about the influence of China ……. You get the picture. You will have a lot of diverse and enriching learning activities going on. When they are catalogued it creates awareness of the diversity being explored and the inclusivity experienced. Diversity is not just about who is in the u3a, it’s also equally about what you do.

Celebrate themes and holidays – Christmas is an obvious one but what about others? What about the universal experiences of celebrating birth or marriage, often common experiences whatever your background. A recent BBC programme Being.. explored some of these and showed common experiences through different faith groups within the UK.

Your committee meetings – Committees continually need new members and encouraging new people to join is often seen as a challenge. Do you think about how your committee operates and whether it is inclusive in its practice and new people would want to join?

Do you ensure:

  • Everyone is valued and has the opportunity to propose Agenda items?
  • All ideas are considered worthwhile and will be discussed if agreed on?
  • Everyone is given the opportunity to speak, uninterrupted?
  • Decisions are made democratically?
  • There is regular and ongoing recognition for the work each person does and it is given equal value?
  • When recruiting you look as widely as possible, at what skills/expertise people can offer rather than whether they are known to you, or they have the same values and ideas as you?

Promotion

Reflect your local situation on your website – don’t be tempted with stock photos of people who look nothing like your members or potential members. Use photos of small groups doing something together, laughing, moving, and in recognisable locations perhaps. Photos of lines of retired people on a day trip are not the best.

Do you advertise your u3a in publications that are distributed in different areas, do you advertise on Facebook that will reach a wide audience? Identify the most effective communication and promotional channels for the diverse community or communities you are trying to reach. Read more about planning your relaunch in a detailed guide elsewhere in the toolkit.

Publicise the breadth of enrichment in your Newsletter and on your website. Talk it up for your members and potential members.

Concentrate more on inclusion than diversity. A focus on inclusion celebrates the many and varied capabilities of u3a members. Tell the community about your u3a’s commitment to inclusion and show it by what you are doing: new members must know they are welcome. A focus on diversity can seem negative if it is misconstrued as an implied criticism.

Take a fresh look at your visuals and promotional material. Have a bi-annual agenda item for this on your committee’s agenda. There is another guide in the toolkit on transforming your website:

Mobility You may have members with an obvious disability. With their permission include them in photos. This shows better than any text or policy that inclusion matters and will show others that you welcome everyone.

Celebrate the diversity you have – members with different skill sets, with different life experiences, from different ethnic or cultural groups, who may speak another language in addition to English etc, rather than beat yourselves up about what you haven’t got.

Once again, please keep a note of your suggestions for improvement and send them to pkmartinez14@gmail.com. We welcome all comments and suggestions.

Support & Resources

Diversity and Inclusion Committee –  u3adandi@gmail.com

Diversity and Inclusion Policy, Guidelines and Advice –  https://www.u3a.org.uk/advice/diversity-and-inclusion

Understanding Diversity and Inclusion presentation – Contact the D&I Committee via the national website to book.

Case Studies from other u3as

Hilary McColl, Bury u3a Accessibility Group

A small group of us have got together to form what we call the Accessibility Study Group. Our u3a uses customised versions of the u3a draft policies from National Office. What our group is more concerned with is encouraging members to turn u3a principles into practice. One of our aims is to work with local agencies on projects of mutual interest. In our two years of existence prior to COVID lockdowns. Specifically, we have:

  • collated ‘resource links’ for group leaders who want to make their groups more inclusive;
  • organised a day for 40-odd members who are either hard of hearing themselves or who live with partners who are affected, called “It’s OK to be deaf”, with contributions from the local Audiology department of NHS and Action on Hearing Loss (now RNID);
  • worked with the local authority hall management to persuade them to replace the antiquated and malfunctioning hearing loop system in their main public hall where we hold (held!) our monthly meetings;
  • worked with the local cinema to instigate subtitled screenings of popular films on a Friday afternoon and helped them to market those showings more effectively to u3a members and others;
  • planned post-COVID to put on a workshop for members who have visual impairments, with input from the local Blind and Partially-sighted Association;
  • started to pilot an approach to improving hearing loops in the town generally. Taking advantage of lockdown time, we have researched, written and published a two-part guide to hearing loops (pdf copies available!)

A downloadable version of this guide is available on our website.

See the Recruitment category for more of the series.