Story: Moseley, King’s Heath and District u3a

What brings together the retired and semi-retired members of Moseley, King’s Heath and District u3a (MKHDu3a – in south-west Birmingham is a natural sense of curiosity. Members, aged in their 50s to their 90s, democratically share their skills and life experiences with each other across more than 65 activity groups; exploring interests such as languages, science, jazz, painting, poetry, Scrabble, dance, history, film, books, cycling, rowing – even the ukulele! There is no expectation on anyone being – or becoming – an expert; just a sense of joy and interest in discovering and sharing with others. 

Prior to lockdown, members had already begun to explore how MKHD u3a could be more diverse – not only in terms of members’ disabilities, ethnicity, or gender identity, for example, but also about what is on offer. In lockdown, with many members shielding, groups that previously met in-person moved online; with others keeping in touch via the phone and printed newsletters. A recent survey with replies from half the 500+ members highlighted people’s concerns (as well as hopes) about doing things together post lockdown: going back to in-person meetups, as well as continuing online and on the phone. There are also questions over the venues that were previously being used, which sometimes included members’ own homes. As not all venues can provide what’s needed next in terms of social distancing and other measures, coming out of lockdown is creating a bigger chance to change what u3a in the area offers – as well as who is involved, and how. 

Organising a Valuable and Vulnerable workshop with Community Catalysts in March 2021 has sparked many ideas about how these reconnections and new connections could be different as lockdown is lifted. This includes exploring new ways of broadening the appeal of u3a across the local area – such as a story group, sharing life stories with each other about where people grew up, or about the journey they’ve experienced so far to reach this stage in their life. Creating a greater number of smaller groups, and more social opportunities will help to broaden the appeal and the knowledge of u3a across the local area.

New connections made in the workshop with people in organisations such as Moseley Park, Moseley Road Baths’ public swimming pool, and the local coworking space The Moseley Exchange, Green Square Accord and Hall Green Neighbourhood Network Scheme brought forward shared ideas, funding opportunities and networking, offers of space and resources, such as the use of gazebos and cushions, and outdoor spaces for coffee and cake mornings where people new to u3a can share what interests them with current members.

These are small steps but practical ones, with follow up already underway and a great sense of positive and actual change ahead – as can be seen in the visual story drawn at the online workshop on the day.