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Len Street - a tribute to the movement's former Chair

09 April 2024

Keith Richards writes about the life of Len Street, who made a huge contribution to the u3a movement as Chair of the Third Age Trust.

Len Street smiling at the camera

Len who has died aged 97 was the architect of the second phase of the development of the u3as in the early part of the twenty first century. He changed my life.

Newly retired and grieving for a job I loved and attempting to establish a new u3a, I attended the annual conference and AGM of the Third Age Trust knowing nobody. It was a rumbustious affair but, to my dismay, nothing was heard about Education – particularly the radical peer to peer learning model which I had been so excited to hear about.

But on the last day Len appeared on the platform, made just this point and proposed the creation of a Standing Committee for Education so that this would never happen again. I volunteered. So did Kate Wedd, both of us to follow Len into the chairmanship of the Trust itself a few years later. That committee achieved so much – residential summer schools, subject study and group leader support days, subject network provision and online courses, a resource centre, Sources, Shared Learning projects. Len was an innovative third age educator winning hearts and minds with charm and persistence.

The basic principles of third age learning were always central, even more so when he became chairman of the Trust in 1997 immediately, with Lin Jonas (Senior Administrative Officer) making the national office a major source of help and advice to the growing number of u3as. These were the years of a substantial lottery grant which he delayed for a year to plan an exit strategy to ensure self-funding at the conclusion. As a former Principal of colleges of Further Education he had contacts and used them to massively increase the public profile of the movement.

Len was born in Walthamstow. He was a generation ahead of me, was twice evacuated as a child, served in the royal navy and marched to the cenotaph on Armistice Day. He had a wicked sense of humour and I could make him laugh with accounts of my undistinguished military service during great nights at the summer schools which he so relished, contributing much needed courses in Science and technology.

He was always accompanied by his wife Ros, a great reader (they were married in 1950). Len was busy in the Science and Technology network and establishing the very popular Royal Institution annual lectures. In 2003 he was awarded the OBE for ‘Services to the u3as’. The glory days.

He came back on the National Executive Council and vigorously participated in debates on the many motions we received. He believed that the educational model would always need constant attention and renewal.

We were still discussing on the telephone the possibility of ‘advanced ‘learning groups on Zoom in the last year of his life and he coordinated an opera session the week before going into hospital for the last time.

A great man – the embodiment of third age learning. He will be so sadly missed.
(Keith Richards with the help of Phil Street, Eric Midwinter and Lin Jonas)
(Readers will find a fuller account of Len’s chairmanship in Eric’s book Five Hundred Beacons pp 219 – 224 under the heading of Street’s Ahead)

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