U3A Sutton Baldoyle (Guest Blog)
U3A Sutton Baldoyle - OUR FIRST TEN YEARS 2005 – 2015 Small Beginnings The date was May 2005, when the late Joe Fitzpatrick, with the support of Baldoyle Library and Age Action Ireland, and a number of likeminded people from the locality came together to discuss lifelong learning opportunities in the area. The U3A seed was […]
U3A Sutton Baldoyle - OUR FIRST TEN YEARS 2005 – 2015
The date was May 2005, when the late Joe Fitzpatrick, with the support of Baldoyle Library and Age Action Ireland, and a number of likeminded people from the locality came together to discuss lifelong learning opportunities in the area. The U3A seed was sown. Germination for our U3A (University of the Third Age) group was slow but determined. Ten years earlier, in 1995, Age Action Ireland had piloted the first U3A group and developed an Irish U3A ethos and values. From the very beginning U3A Sutton Baldoyle liaised with all who held the U3A National Coordinator development /educational role within Age Action.
We started reaching out at the local level, and promoted lifelong learning and U3A within the community via Parish Bulletins, Library Notice Boards, community newsletters and other communications.
Geographical Spread – where are people coming from?
Our current membership covers three counties – Fingal, Dublin City and Meath. Our U3A lifelong learners are predominately local but others travel to our meetings from near and far, for instance from Donabate, Ashbourne, along the coast from Malahide, Portmarnock, Baldoyle, Sutton, Howth and from Raheny, Killester, Clontarf and Whitehall. Quite a lot of mileage! It is an area where our demographic group is flourishing and population forecasts indicating significant growth in the coming years.
What we do?
We meet at Baldoyle Library once a month from September to May. During the summer months of June/July/August events and cultural visits are planned around the city and country.
We are all about creating ‘self help’ learning opportunities and being ‘forever learning’. We enjoy sharing our experiences and interests and learning from others – this is the ‘university’ part. Our group has a very wide and diverse range of interests, a high level of curiosity, an appetite for learning and a commitment to lifelong learning. This can be seen from the monthly talks, social activities, cultural event visits, concerts, theatre visits and our in-house Christmas Entertainment in the month of December. We find our own expression of the U3A Ireland lifelong learning values within an urban environment. Being in such an urban environment there are numerous other facilities and organisations within relatively easy access which has shaped how we have evolved over the last 10 years. We complement all the other facilities/groups. We have found our niche.
How we do it?
With the support of the staff of Baldoyle Library we hold our monthly meetings in the Library. These are open meetings and each person’s attendance noted. New people are welcomed and are provided with a U3A Sutton Baldoyle brochure outlining the ethos and values of U3A, what we do and a list of our activities in recent years.
There is tea/coffee/refreshments and social chat prior to the start of the meeting. We commence with a business meeting that includes providing information on ‘What’s On Where’, followed by speakers who amaze, amuse and ‘educate’ us. After each meeting our website is updated and a post meeting summary is circulated to the group. This helps to remind us of ‘things to do’ between meetings and helps those who missed the meeting to keep in touch.
In 2011 we reviewed how we are organised and as a collective learning group the consensus was that we would not operate as a traditional hierarchical relationships group but rather activities/tasks would be organised around a Steering Group with Teams of Volunteers supported by a ‘Buddy System’, rotated and shared.
Our members are the life blood of our U3A group, very generous with their time and each has something to give.
Numbers: We started with ten to twelve people on average coming to our monthly meetings. In 2010 we had a list with 30 names. This grew in 2011 to an average attendance of 22 people. This growth trend has continued where today in our 10th year we have doubled the 2011 meeting average and reaching full capacity which presents some interesting challenging opportunities.
We have seen an increase in the number of meetings/activities each individual attends and within the last 12 months we had in excess of 400 coming along to our U3A group activities.
We went on-line!!! We developed our own website in 2010. All our activities going back to 2010 are on our website for all to view, understand and appreciate our lifelong learning activities.
Every meeting sees new people coming along. As with any group there is a turnover with people moving away and/or dealing with other life events – some come back after years being away. We constantly need to keep advertising our meetings locally and maintaining our post meeting updates.
The U3A Network and Age Action
Each U3A group is independent and manages its own activities. Within 2 years of our set up we had reached out to other U3A groups in Ireland and attended the first U3A Facilitators meeting in 2007. This Facilitators’ meeting was organised by the Age Action’s U3A National Coordinator. This provided an opportunity to meet with other U3A groups within Ireland and cross border and to share experiences and ideas. Over the years we have exchanged visits with other U3A groups around the country and Northern Ireland that we welcome and enjoy. The U3A Network continues and we use the opportunity to exchange views and experiences.
U3A members are invited to attend Age Action’s AGM; their pre Budget Submission meetings, Policy Formation meetings as well as ‘Getting Started’ programmes on offer within Age Action. As an advocacy group on behalf of older people individual members have an opportunity to use their voice.
Trinity EngAge/U3A Age Action Open Forum
In 2015 a number of our members went along to this TCD supported annual event organised in cooperation with Age Action. It is a great opportunity for individual members to meet up in Trinity College Dublin with other members of U3A groups from around the country.
Three years ago Trinity College Dublin developed a list of TCD academic staff that will come out to our group and to speak on their speciality. This has been a great development for our group in promoting our lifelong learning and continuous personal development philosophy and added to our diversity of topics.
Intergenerational Programme – Dublin City University.
In 2010 U3A Sutton Baldoyle developed links with DCU soon after DCU initiated this programme. Groups of our members have participated in a number of programmes on offer on campus by DCU and in addition academic lecturers have accepted invitations to come out to our group. DCU became the first Age Friendly University in Ireland and we are delighted to be invited to be part of this ongoing development.
We have discovered how the local Universities and other local community learning programmes and/or courses are helping us in our endeavours.
Working with the Wider Community
Fingal County Council encourages voluntary groups within the area to register as part of the Fingal Community Network. The network enables community organisations to influence plans and policies for the future development of the county. This includes the promotion of lifelong learning strategies. U3A Sutton Baldoyle registered. We joined the Fingal Seniors Citizens Forum which holds monthly meetings for representatives from local community groups and meet with a wider group of older people within Fingal.
Christmas 2007 we were invited to the Lord Mayors Party in Swords again linking our group to the community development within the Fingal County Council area. In 2008, Fingal County Council invited this U3A group to draw up a suitable entry and to represent the county in the annual National Pride Of Place Competition. At the awards event held in Co Waterford later that year, Sutton/Baldoyle was very highly commended on their entry. We hold this award with pride.
In 2009 Fingal County Council developed a Fingal Age Friendly Strategy. Our members have participated in a number of Age Friendly Alliance Walkability surveys to Beaumont Hospital, DCU, Dublin Airport Authority as part of this strategy. We attend annual Information Meetings and events where members provide feedback regarding services to older people and receive updates on projects and development plans within the area. This has been a great learning journey.
What members say about U3A?
U3A members have told us that the atmosphere in Baldoyle Library is great, people have developed friendships, seen different perspectives on topics and life, shared new experiences, explored new avenues that they never knew existed. All in a comfortable, relaxed and welcoming environment.
Some examples of typical expressions often heard:
“U3A Sutton/Baldoyle is proving to be an educational awakening experience for me as every month the talks are wide ranging and cover many diverse areas. On the odd occasion I miss a meeting I feel a sense of loss as I know I have missed something interesting”
“After working for close on 50 years I needed to know what was going on in the community – it is a completely different world and at times very frustrating, challenging – especially during the last seven year period of austerity and pension income cuts; increased taxation; cuts in health and other services etc. Coming to our U3A and Age Action meetings has helped me to survive“.
“U3A helped me to explore new ideas and horizons, make new friends, experience the energy and enthusiasm for life of older people” .
“U3A releases a whole new range of areas of interests that I never knew existed” .
“I schedule this once a month meeting; summer visits and theatre visits into my diary – I refer to this as ‘ME TIME’” .
“Our activities and attitudes prove that we are more than our pathology or chronological age” .
“U3A and access to Age Action, DCU, TCD and Fingal Seniors Forum and others has enormously enhanced my ‘third age years’ – it has kept the brain working, gets me out and about to meet lots of people and joining in the fun” .
What about the Future?
Like all U3As, we are a self help, self-directed, voluntary organisation and will continue to rely on members and speakers’ willingness and generosity to freely contribute ideas, suggestions and, especially, their time to making U3A work.
We celebrate our value to society, our capabilities and our significant potential in our Third Age.
We will continue to promote the U3A Brand within Age Action Ireland.
Here’s to the lifelong learning years ahead.