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Learning more no matter what your age with The University of the Third Age

PUBLISHED: 17:12 26 February 2014 | UPDATED: 17:12 26 February 2014

Have you ever thought about learning new skills or sharing new experiences without the pressure of qualifications? Then the University of the Third Age could be for you

The University of the Third Age, more commonly known as U3A, is a nationwide network of learning groups aimed at encouraging older people no longer in full-time employment to share their knowledge, skills and interests in a friendly environment. There are no exams and no homework, just regular lessons or study groups of like-minded people with a shared interest in a particular subject.

Originally started in 1973 by a professor at the University of Toulouse U3A hit these shores in the 1980s and was rapidly taken up by retired people keen to share knowledge and take up new pursuits. There are currently more than 270,000 people involved in 820 U3A groups throughout the country and though there are no age limits, the majority of people involved are the over 50s. Though groups may vary in size, numbers are kept down as it makes for a more intimate atmosphere, so you may have to go on a waiting list for over-subscribed groups.

One of the great aspects about U3A is that it is as accessible as possible, and that includes geographically. Groups meet either at somebody’s home, or in a rented room such as at your local library, church or community centre.

The range of subjects you can learn about is huge and diverse – it ranges from wine-tasting and art appreciation to languages, dancing, computer skills, gardening, digital photography, Scrabble and astronomy. Basically if there is enough demand in your area for whichever subject it is you wish to study or practice, you can start up a group yourself. For example the long list of activities on Dorchester and District U3A site includes archaeology, creative writing, jazz appreciation, wine appreciation and Italian, French, Spanish and German language classes to suit a variety of abilities.

Each group has its own volunteer leader or co-ordinator and they have a particular interest or expertise in the given subject. For example language classes tend to be lead by those who have specialist knowledge in that language, or are a native speaker. In fact language classes are particularly popular with U3A members. Some may want to brush up on their basic French or German, last tackled back in their school days, whilst others want to learn a completely new language.

As well as broadening the mind U3A can broaden your social circle. Many groups evolve a strong social side, often offering trips and get-togethers outside the regular classes. It is a great way to meet people who are on the same wavelength and make new friends.

You will find local U3A groups at Wimborne, Sherborne, Sturminster Newton, Upton & Lytchett, Verwood, Ferndown, Dorchester, Lyme Regis, Poole, Bournemouth, Purbeck, Shaftesbury & Gillingham, Blandford, Bridport and Christchurch. So why not try something new in 2104 and sign up with your local U3A group and find something that you would like to know more about or indeed share some of your own specialist skills with others. n

For more information about the University of the Third Age, visit u3a.org.uk or call 020 8466 6139.

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Dorset U3A Groups

Blandford: blandfordu3a.co.uk; 01258 453376

Bournemouth: bournemouthu3a.org.uk; 01202 420700

Bridport: u3asites.org.uk/bridport; 01308 424431

Christchurch: christchurchu3a.org.uk; 01202 566387

Dorchester: dorchesteru3a.org.uk; 01305 264287

Ferndown: ferndownu3a.co.uk; 01202 528313

Lyme Regis: lymeregisu3a.org; 01297 444566

Poole: pooleu3a.org.uk; 01202 380113

Purbeck: purbecku3a.org.uk; 01929 551308

Shaftesbury & Gillingham: sgu3a.org.uk; 01747 826207

Sherborne: u3asites.org.uk/sherborne; 01963 362001

Sturminster Newton: 01258 473934

Upton & Lytchett: 01202 623742

Verwood: verwoodu3a.org.uk; 01202 821416

Weymouth & Portland: u3asites.org.uk/weymouth-portland; 01305 832198

Wimborne: wimborneu3a.org.uk; 01202 886097

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