2021 is the 25th Anniversary of the establishment of Swanland u3a. I will be publishing various short pieces in this section of our website to alert our members to the vision, imagination and sheer good sense of those who decided that the ideas underpinning the national u3a movement were valuable to retired people and well worth bringing to Swanland and North Ferriby.
The first piece is by Peter and Delia Bingham and is an edited version of two talks they gave at the 10th and 20th Anniversaries together with some thoughts from me Peter and Delia cover the founding of the national u3a and the very early days of Swanland u3a in both an entertaining and informative way - it is a very good read and I’m sure you will recognise how our u3a today still reflects those first principles. Peter was our first Chair and Delia was Membership Secretary. Both are still members of our u3a and I am sure many of you remember their kindness and encouragement on first joining - I certainly do!
What is your favourite thing about Swanland u3a? It might be the Quiz or the Thursday lectures; perhaps the opportunity to visit new places either as a member of the Walking or Holiday group. For me it is the opportunity to undertake activities I have always enjoyed with like minded people in my Interest Groups.
Whatever the answer, we all are indebted to those who established Swanland u3a 25 years ago as without both their vision and efforts our lives would not be as rich.
The Committee will issue details of how we will celebrate our 25th Birthday in due course - one thing I can say is: There will be cake!
Peter and Delia Bingham, two of our original members, are still active in Swanland u3a and have passed to me transcripts of talks they gave to celebrate the 10th and 20th anniversaries which explain both the origins of the u3a movement and the hard work involved in establishing our local organisation. Peter was our first Chairman and Delia has been both Membership Secretary and Speaker Finder - all the best people have occupied the latter post!
With their permission I have reproduced an edited version below, annotated with some of my own thoughts. I hope to publish further material related to our 25th over the year.
They gave this account of how the national u3a movement was founded at our 10th Anniversary….
In 1972 a group of retired people in Toulouse negotiated with their local university for the use of its facilities, and for free attendance at its lectures. From this was born the "Universite du Troisieme Age".
It was a wonderful idea and it quickly spread throughout Europe, but it has had its problems. Some years ago, we found an article in a German newspaper. It said that there was a tendency for retired folk to arrive early for lectures and bag all the front seats. They then fired hard questions at the lecturers and dominated any discussions. The real students cowered at the back and felt intimidated, because their elders had so much more experience, knowledge and confidence!
There was an attempt to set up a similar partnership in Cambridge, but the university rejected the idea. This was a good thing. It forced the founders of the U3A movement in Britain to fall back on that older definition of a university:- "a group of people studying something for its own sake."
Three great men - Peter Lazlett, Eric Midwinter and Michael Young - were discussing the problem of growing old. It was the summer of 1981. They dreamed of a self-help co-operative of learners. The idea was cheap and simple. Peter Lazlett lived from 1915 to 2001. He was a fellow of St John's College, Cambridge, and a brilliant philosopher and social scientist, who revolutionised much of the conventional thinking on social history. He was sometime director of talks for the Third Programme, and was inspirational as a co-founder of the Open University. Michael Young was also born in 1915. He died in 2002, a year later than Lazlett. He wrote the 1945 Labour Party Manifesto and founded - or helped to found - The Consumer Association, Which? Magazine, The National Consumer Council, The Open University, and much more besides. He was sometime fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge.
Eric Midwinter is a much younger man, born in 1932 and still very much with us. He has been director of the Centre for the Policy on Aging (1980-91), chairman of the London Regional Passengers Committee (1984-96), and visiting professor of Education at the University of Exeter (1992-2001). He is an international authority on ageing and has been chairman of the Open University's Health and Social Welfare Board. He has written widely on the history of comedy in the British theatre and on the history of cricket…..
….We are fortunate to stand on the shoulders of giants.
DELIA: They were discussing the problem as they drove away from Cambridge. One of them said: "We don't need the university; we can do it ourselves!" They stopped the car and worked on the idea. Retired people, they said, are perfectly capable of organising their own study and teaching each other. Thus was the pattern of the British U3A movement invented. Eric Midwinter aired their dream in a radio programme, and his listeners responded in numbers and with enthusiasm. So, they called a conference and founded their first U3A.
PETER: During our first real meeting as a self-appointed committee of five, Geoffrey Collier volunteered to become Treasurer, Linda Collier became our Speaker Finder, Delia Membership Secretary, Jim Vice-Chairman and I ended as Chairman. Malcolm Lawrenson also joined and agreed to organise theatre visits.
The next step would be the introductory meeting of Swanland u3a
DELIA: We realised that we were now committed to forming our own U3A. Peter produced a small explanatory leaflet on our primitive computer, and Geoff, with his more advanced technology, produced some posters. Both leaflets and posters bravely announced a public meeting to be held on Thursday 23rd May 1996 in Christ Church Hall by the pond. The posters were placed in public libraries and shops, while the leaflets were handed out to anyone who showed interest. I recall that 28 were distributed at a Swanland Village Association meeting. Letters were written to many local vicars, requesting that they place a notice in their next parish magazine. The local free press was also used. In fact Peter even became the Swanland rep on the Haltemprice Advertiser to make sure that we were properly represented!
PETER: We prepared carefully for that first meeting, writing a detailed agenda with an introductory talk, and producing questionnaires for people to fill in. We asked for their contact details and a list of any interests they would like to pursue. We also asked if they would like to lead an interest group. Our posters had already outlined the ethos and purpose of the U3A, but we made sure that the whole idea was clearly explained at that first meeting. Carol Willson - already too busy with other committees to join ours - prepared tea for an indefinite number.
JIM: You can imagine how amazed we were when 85 people crammed into the hall, taking every available seat. The committee had to sit on tables, the only other seat available being a wheel chair we found in a cupboard! One or two latecomers could not get in, and had to contact us independently over the next few days. A delegation from Hessle U3A was there to back us up, and much gratifying enthusiasm was shown.
DELIA: We had already decided on a subscription of £5.00. There would be two lecture meetings a month, for which an additional charge of 50p would cover the hall hire and tea. We suggested several interest groups that committee members would be prepared to run. They were Play reading - Walking - Family History - Foreign Languages - Industrial Archaeology - Gardening - Music - Book Group - Painting and Drawing - Visits to Theatres, Concerts and Museums. We told them what we planned to do, but emphasised that the U3A would reflect the wishes of its members. What actually happened would really be up to them. We hoped that would make them take our questionnaire more seriously!
Our subscription in 2021 is now a little more expensive but most of the Interest Groups suggested at that first meeting by Peter and Delia are still in existence with minor changes; of course we now have 60 groups!
At the meeting Peter had a narrow escape….
PETER: One very bossy lady alarmed me by saying that she would be very useful to us as she was an excellent organiser! I made a careful note of her name, but did not encourage her. She is no longer a member! Carol's tea planning rose magnificently to the occasion. Barbara Howard - whom none of us knew - generously offered to help with the washing up, and was promptly invited to join the committee as Secretary. We had already planned the date of our next meeting, so invited everyone to join us again on Thursday, 27th June. Unfortunately we could not say where we would be meeting, as Christ Church was clearly not big enough. We asked everyone to watch the local press for the announcement of the venue.
Delia describes the next tasks.
DELIA: There was much to decide and do before we could start enrolling. Potential members were persuaded to convene interest groups for the activities suggested. This involved cold calling total strangers and then twisting their arms over the phone. Peter proved to be quite good at it! Geoff had worked hard calculating costs for hall hire, administrative costs and national affiliation costs, in order to forecast probable cash flow. More lists of names were typed and circulated, and potential members were persuaded to join Carol's newly initiated tea rota. Linda began booking a programme of fortnightly lectures. Her success in obtaining interesting speakers was of vital importance.
PETER: The subscription to the Third Age Trust was then £1.50 and only paid annually. We decided that the right time to pay was NOW, while there were only the seven committee members on the books. So Swanland U3A affiliated to the Third Age Trust with only seven members, before the main enrolment meeting! It was a bit naughty of us, especially as the Trust had promised to give us a start up pack and a grant of £30.
The first meeting saw the Committee's plan 'come together.'
PETER: Delia was actually rather ill that day and had to stay at home, but Geoff enrolled over 70 new members. Linda advertised the speakers she had recruited for September and beyond, starting with Sue Flew talking about the Hull Tapestry.
DELIA: Brand new interest group leaders touted for custom and tried to match those interested with the lists that had been prepared earlier. These interest groups established dates for their meetings, making sure they did not clash with other groups. Tea and biscuits were served…
…The walking group proved to be very important in the growth of our U3A. The members talked all the time. We were far too noisy to see any wildlife! But we did get to know each other fairly quickly. Almost all the additional recruits to the committee in our first few years came from the walking group, and many new friendships were made; surely one of the most important spin offs of being a member of any U3A.
PETER: At the end of our first year, a dozen members of the walking group decided to have a walk at Huggate and then stay on for lunch at the Wolds Inn. This was such an enjoyable social occasion, that almost every walk since has ended at a pub for lunch. We are a rowdy lot - and have sometimes feared that we might be thrown out as third age louts!…..
…Something I hope is NOT part of our history !
DELIA: After our enrolment meeting in St Barnabas' on Thursday, 27th June, 1996 we had 80 members. But it did not stop there. People kept ringing us up. By our first lecture meeting on Thursday, 5th September, we had 128 members, of whom 72 are still on the books today (2006). We met in the Scout Hall, but it was already too small, so we were delighted when St Barnabas' became available by our third meeting! There were by then 8 interest groups already launched and 5 more on the slipway.
PETER: In the early days the committee was kept very busy. We had a ballooning membership to communicate with. Delia and I learned a great deal about the awkwardness of posting newsletters through letterboxes high, low and hidden. We also had to hammer out a constitution before the first AGM on 6th March 1997…. the members adopted the constitution, and the self-appointed steering committee was officially voted in. We were fully up and running with 15 interest groups and about 200 members. So that's how it all began!
At our 20th Anniversary celebration, Peter explained both the impact that Swanland u3a had on other local u3a's…
Under the guidance of that committee, our membership grew rapidly. We can feel proud that Swanland members had some hand in the foundation and launching of U3As in Beverley, Cottingham, The Caves and the Awake U3A. We were also the original promoters of the Humberside Accord.
…and on himself.
Speaking personally, I can only say that my involvement in setting up and running this U3A has given me much joy. I have made numerous friends, whom I might otherwise never have met. My retirement has been busier and more fulfilling than I had ever imagined. Several new hobbies have come into my life. Leading the walking group gave me knowledge of our beautiful countryside. I have found myself volunteering to give talks on subjects about which I knew very little, but which have now become familiar favourites. A great deal has been enjoyably experienced and learned. And alongside all these benefits, I can no longer walk into the village without meeting someone I know.
Surely his final sentence is a 'favourite thing' about Swanland u3a that we all share!
Literature Group 1 - 25th Birthday!
LITERATURE GROUPS 25 YEARS ON!
Celebrating the 25th anniversary of Swanland U3A has made me recall the first days of the Literature group in 1996
Pam Portal and I are the only surviving members of the first group, which grew to be 16 in number before we had to decide to divide into two groups if we were to continue meeting in private homes.
Today the two groups have grown in tandem to a total of 23 members, who hold a reunion garden party each summer, with quizzes, discussions and afternoon tea
As convenor of group 1, I have just reported that we have read 261 books over the 25 years, whose authors, coincidentally, come equally from each sex.
Discussing one book a month, from an annual list of recommended books, submitted by members, our literary genres are wide ranging, and do include nonfiction from time to time.
We have weathered the pandemic period by meeting online, via Zoom, and in gardens, and we are now venturing to meet indoors again.
We were lucky that the one pastime which everyone was able, even keen to pursue throughout this period, was reading literature.
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