Harrogate U3A is a mature, 19 year old, organisation with approximately 850 members,
and it is one of the larger U3As in the country. It provides over 45 interest groups
in addition to monthly open meetings.
For understandable reasons we lose approximately 100 members each year but in that
time typically gain 140 new members.
Many of these new members join in the autumn period especially at the time of Open
Day. This is unsurprising as many people tend to consider new activities or courses
at what is commonly regarded as the start of the new “academic” year.
What sort of welcome do new members receive?
I submit that of particular importance is the availability of all courses to new
or potential members at Open Day. They face immediate disappointment if groups/courses
are already full with existing members who have signed up in advance of Open Day.
Their only consolation is to be placed on a waiting list. This is hardly welcoming
and flies in the face of our mission.
“Waiting lists were never part of the script” — Growth Matters, U3A Trust, Feb 2010.
I believe that the rapid absorption of new members into the full range of our U3A
activities is essential if we are to retain our vitality, as new members bring new
perspectives, new talents, and new energies.
To turn away and disappoint new members will damage the future of our U3A.
This comment from the chairman of the Third Age Trust is apposite--
“…. many visitors said they applied to their local U3A only to be told it was full,
or the group they wished to join was closed to new members.
This is becoming a serious problem. We are committed as an organisation to provide
for the education of older people and this aim is nowhere limited to existing members
or sections of the community.
Closed doors are causing us to break a promise implicit in our social contract at
a time when demand for membership is growing.”
---I Searle, U3A News April,2010.
Groups will need to review their membership arrangements on an annual basis to ensure
that they are welcoming to newcomers while remaining sensitive to the needs of loyal,
existing members. I admit, this is a difficult balance to achieve.
However, we are all aware how in wider life, groups can ossify and become cliques
unless they receive injections of new members. We cannot afford the mentality that
states “we’re alright as we are.”
I raise these issues without presumption as to the best way forward.
Although a serving members of the committee of Harrogate U3A, I must stress that
I am writing in my personal capacity as an ordinary member, and my comments must
not be construed in any way as having any endorsement by the committee.
I hope, however, that healthy and vigorous discussion of these issues may help us
to take forward what is a highly successful U3A.