Third Age of learning celebrated

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Now I’m in my ‘Third Age’, past my ‘three score years and ten’, I’ve been reflecting on what this means for those of us born in the 1940’s, writes Caroline Green of Wetherby U3A.

For many of us further education wasn’t an option if you didn’t pass your Eleven Plus or go to the right school; the opportunity to apply for a place at University didn’t arise. Jobs were plentiful and that’s what most of us did, left school and found employment. For girls the choice was limited; teaching, secretarial or nurse training.

Looking back, I realise, that an unremarkable, unsuccessful secondary education did not in fact curtail my desire to learn, it enhanced it and provided opportunities to learn through other means, which may also be described as ‘Universities’ in the late Latin meaning of the word; ‘guild, society, body of men’.

Like many others of my generation, the Armed Forces were my salvation and my place in the University of Life began at the tender age of 18. Learning to fend for myself, learning to become part of a team, learning a profession, developing self-discipline and a commitment to Queen and country were just part of the experience. The advantages for a young woman were having fun, travelling, making friends for life and wearing a uniform, feeling proud to be part of something bigger than you ever could be as an individual. This was my first taste of education in the true sense of the word.

Thankfully in 1969, Michael Young, Harold Wilson and Jennie Lee, with other visionary and adventurous personalities, were the instigators of my second university; The Open University. Studying through this medium of distance learning was a complete eye opener to me; the Summer School a revelation. It was an extremely difficult learning process, studying while working full-time. I never considered the possibility that I would be able to apply to a traditional university without the necessary qualifications, however, the Open University, provided anyone and everyone with a chance to continue their education if they wished. I still refer to resource matter from 1971 and find that it contains some of the highest quality educational material ever delivered. It allowed my generation to make a new start, along with many others.

What the Open University did was to provide qualifications which enabled me to apply to read a degree at my third University, what would be classed as a red brick university back in the day. However, this was no ordinary degree, it was a four-year part-time in-service degree undertaken while working within my chosen profession, working full-time and bringing up a family; I was never one to choose the easy path! This new degree, introduced in the 1990’s, provided yet another opportunity to continue my quest for education and significantly increased my worth in the job market.

When I retired from my highly enjoyable, challenging and rewarding job in 2011, I discovered my fourth university, the University of the Third Age. Through this broad and welcoming organisation, I have continued to learn about all the things I had only dreamt of all those years ago. The community has introduced me to new friends and experiences. The variety of groups and opportunities on offer has provided me with enough challenges to keep my brain more than ticking over and I have a discovered that music and all things cycling are not only my hobbies, but passions.

I recently attended the Civic Service of Thanksgiving which was held at St James Parish Church in Wetherby.

Coun Galan Moss had chosen as his Mayoral Charities, the four Parent Teacher Associations of the town’s Primary Schools. The address, on the theme of Primary Education, was given by The Rev Stroma McDermott, Curate at St James, who stressed how important education, and particularly early education, is to human development and how collectively our town community can play a very valuable role in supporting this learning.

In this 50th Anniversary year of the founding of the Open University and the 10th Anniversary of the founding of the Wetherby & District U3A, it is right to celebrate the value of lifelong learning. If you have a burning desire to learn something new, brush up on something old, or maybe just become part your local community, do check out the website http://www.wetherbyu3a.org.uk/