Never too old to learn: Redbridge Pensioners’ university has 700 members and looking for more

PUBLISHED: 12:35 04 October 2018

U3A enjoying a yoga class. Picture: Rochelle Wallman

U3A enjoying a yoga class. Picture: Rochelle Wallman


It’s freshers’ season but you won’t find this 2018 cohort reaching for the Jagerbombs or waking up with traffic cones in their room.

Denise Ross, Group Leader Linda Mishkin and Helen Brown getting into a game of Backgammon.Denise Ross, Group Leader Linda Mishkin and Helen Brown getting into a game of Backgammon.

Every other Monday a small group of senior people meet up at the Ilford home of Joan Wheeler, 90, for classes.

Seated in a circle in the front room of her house, they read and discuss poetry for a couple of hours, only interrupted by a short break for tea and biscuits.

Joan’s poetry class has been running for 19 years and is one of the many activities offered to retired and semi-retired people by Redbridge & District University of the Third Age - or U3A for short.

The term university is a bit misleading as there are no qualifications to be gained and no exams to be sat and it is all about the joy of delving deeper into shared interests.

Discussion on stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination at a  psychology group.Picture: Rochelle WallmanDiscussion on stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination at a psychology group.Picture: Rochelle Wallman

Apart from her poetry class, Joan also attends a German conversation class and goes to chair exercises.

“I have made many friends during my years in U3A, and the activities stimulate me both physically and mentally,” she said.

This sentiment is shared by Warran Rolnis, 76, of Clayhall,

“I attend U3A courses in both conversational German and French, the former to develop some earlier knowledge, the latter to revise my existing, fairly fluent ability,” he explained.

“As a lifelong train enthusiast, I was very happy when the new Railway Group recently started.

“I also enjoy the Sunday Lunch meetings, and in the last few months, a couple of coach outings.

“I find meeting and interacting with people of great personal benefit, and hope that I in turn, am passing this on to others”.

The subjects offered by U3A may seem diverse but this is the strength of the organisation, said vice chairman Liz Kite, 74.

“U3A is a self-help organisation and the courses are run by members and often held in members’ homes,” she added.

“Any member may start a group in whatever subject they choose.

“Older folk have such a rich experience of life behind them and we currently offer more than 80 classes ranging from academic subjects such as psychology and philosophy to more general interest discussion and quiz groups but also arts and crafts and all manner of board and card games and not least, physical activities such as yoga and walking groups. It’s about keeping your mind, body and hands active – in short use it or lose it.”

Club members may learn lots at the “university” but it also adds to their sense of well-being.

U3A said the social benefits are of equal importance to the knowledge shared and gained.

Linda Norton, 72, of Clayhall, said after losing her husband she joined the club as she wanted to get out, meet new people and do different things.

“You can do as much or as little as you want to do in U3A and I belong to Sunday pub lunches, outings, holidays, coffee mornings, quiz groups and theatre trips,” she said.

“Now my life is fuller and not so empty and I’ve made many new friends.”

Hilary Barclay, 66, of Newbury Park, adds: “Everyone is so friendly and welcoming and the groups are entertaining and informative.”

U3A originated in France and was established in Britain in 1982.

Today, there are more than 1,000 U3As in the UK with a total of nearly half a million members.

Membership is £25 for the year which covers members for as many groups as they wish to attend.

Liz Kite added: “To sum it up we keep people mentally and physically alert and interested in life.

“We’re too busy to spend unnecessary time in doctors’ surgeries and taking up the time of social services - we’re enjoying ourselves.”

If you are interested in joining the 700 members at Redbridge & District U3A, visit You can also contact Maureen Nieberg, on 020 8551 5738, or email

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