University of the Third Age (U3A) was launched in Heathfield and Waldron at a packed meeting in the Heathfield Community Centre on Monday afternoon when so many attended that parking was difficult.
The meeting was opened by Parish Council chairman Cllr Patrick Coffey and chaired by Brian Dalby, education development representative for Sussex.
Brian Dalby said U3A began in France in 1972 and arrived in the UK ten years later. The UK has 340,776 members at 944 U3As.
The country with the most members was China with five million. He hopes that one day in the UK there would be a U3A within ten miles of everyone. There were presentations about U3A grups elsewhere in the South of England and Sussex. Participants create special interest groups to meet regularly in each others’ houses, perhaps have a monthly meeting with a speaker, receive regular newsletters and, above all, run organisations themselves.
Hilary Robinson, a trustee for South East Regional U3As, said the word ‘university’ just meant a collection of people. It is a self-help co-operative, an educational charity, with no age limit though most members were retired and draw on each others’ skills.
Jane Larcombe, from Wadhurst U3A, advised everyone to ‘capture the excitement, buzz and energy and bottle it’. The meeting ended with unanimous support for a Heathfield U3A and a dozen people volunteered to form a steering committee due to meet in a fortnight and launch in January.