Never too late to learn

PUBLISHED: 09:14 17 November 2011 | UPDATED: 20:18 20 February 2013

Luton Local History Group’s visit to Hitchin Lavender in Ickleford

Luton Local History Group’s visit to Hitchin Lavender in Ickleford

Next year is the 30th anniversary of the University of the Third Age. Founded in 1982, it has grown steadily ever since, and nowhere more so than in Hertfordshire, which provides 13,350 of its 270,000-plus members. Francis Beckett explains...

THE U3A provides learning opportunities for people in their third age that is, who no longer work full time and are no longer responsible for the care of children. Its members learn what they want, when they want to learn it there are no set curricula, no qualifications, and no inspections. All the members are members of their own local U3A there are more than 800 of them nationally, 26 in Hertfordshire and these local U3As are entirely autonomous.

But sometimes they get together for a major project, and the Hertfordshire Network of U3As is organising two major events to celebrate the 2012 London Olympics as well as the thirtieth anniversary of the U3A. Members aim to walk both the Hertfordshire Way and the Lea Valley Walk.

The Hertfordshire Way is a 194 mile circular walk, which runs from Royston in the north to Tring in the West, on to Shenley in the south before heading to Bishops Stortford in the east and finally back to Royston. It is divided into 16 legs of about 12 miles, and the walk will take place over a four-month period with one leg being walked each week.

The Lea Valley Walk starts over the border in Bedfordshire at Leagrave near Luton and enters Hertfordshire close to Harpenden, then crosses the county from north-west to south-east before passing into Essex at Waltham Abbey where it runs alongside the Olympic White Water Centre. The final stretch is through East London passing close to the main Olympic site at Stratford and on to the Thames at Limehouse. The whole walk is about 50 miles and again it will be walked in legs, this time of about 10 miles each.

Hertfordshire U3A Network chair Margaret Wainwright calls it our very own Olympic challenge.

The U3A idea has proved so popular in Hertfordshire that new U3As have opened to relieve the pressure on neighbouring ones. One of the newest is Chorleywood U3A, whose chair Jill Menghetti says: The U3A is often a lifeline for people who have retired, or moved to part-time working. Increasingly there are U3As, not just in the large towns, but in villages like Sarratt. You may have lived somewhere for a very long time and think you know everyone, but you find that you start making new friends later in life through the U3A.

One of Chorleywood U3As first monthly talks was on Samuel Pepys, given by the secretary of the Samuel Pepys Society. Next came lecturer and cathedral guide Jane Kelsall on the extraordinary life of a beautiful American girl who became the second wife of the 9th Duke of Marlborough.

Chorleywood U3A has just celebrated its first anniversary with a special event at St Clement Danes School. Entertainment was provided by singer Simon Gilbert, who was the singing voice of Peter OToole in The Man from La Mancha. Several of its groups showed off their work or their new skills: Chorleywood U3As Tai Chi, singing for fun, play reading and handbell groups, among others, were much in evidence.

John Britten, Chair of South West Herts U3A, has been discussing how to expand the U3A to meet the rocketing demand with education and development officer Zazia Pratt, and a public meeting this autumn will work out how, and where, yet another new U3A might be created.

The U3A is one of the very few organisations for older people which is run democratically by older people themselves. Third agers organisations are typically run by well-intentioned second agers, but in the U3A the members take all the decisions, locally and nationally. Im expecting Hertfordshire U3As to be well represented at the Annual General Meeting in Nottingham in September.

Get involved

For more about the Hertfordshire Way walk contact Keith Hammond at; and for the Lea Valley walk, contact Robert Tarron at

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