Innovation key in Covid crisis

The advent of coronavirus has led to groups having to find new ways of doing things – a particular challenge for those comprising older people like u3a, the University of the Third Age.

A pre-Covid breath of fresh air for a u3a walking group
A pre-Covid breath of fresh air for a u3a walking group

Here Peter Traves, who chairs the Shropshire u3a network, tells how it has adapted.

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What does an organisation based on face-to-face contact do faced with Covid restrictions and the added fact that many of its members are identified as being particularly vulnerable to this virus?

Simple choice – go into hibernation until restrictions are lifted, or adapt to meet the challenge. The 16 u3as in Shropshire and Wolverhampton enthusiastically chose the latter option.

The u3a is an organisation designed to meet the learning and social needs of people who have retired, semi-retired or simply do not work full-time.

It promotes mutual self-help learning with no need for any prior knowledge or educational qualifications. It might be a subject you have always been interested in or a new area of interest or activity you now have time to pursue. Activities range from walking, cycling and table tennis to astronomy, Italian and history. It’s also a means of people socialising and making new friends.

The u3a can really help keep mind and body active and young.

So along comes Covid with all its necessary restrictions but we want to stay in touch with our members because now more than ever some form of social contact will be valued.

We have a network of u3as in Shropshire and Wolverhampton and from the start we shared ideas about how to meet this challenge.

We discovered Zoom for a start and many interest groups started to meet online. The level of creativity engaged was fantastic and the most unlikely groups found ways of meeting via Zoom and other platforms. Somewhere in Britain there is a u3a Scottish Dancing group meeting online – I kid you not!

The more adventurous u3as then experimented with larger meetings with guest speakers and found that this worked really well. Soon the rest of us were following their example.

Where walking or cycling in large groups was banned people shared routes – complete in at least one case with a video filmed by drone of the ascent of the 10 highest peaks in Shropshire.

Newsletters and updates to members multiplied in number and regularity with news, jokes and quizzes.

Where members could not use the internet other members made sure there was regular phone contact, sometimes for a social chat or perhaps to discuss a film or book.

As a result of all this we have not just survived, we have become more innovative, learned new ways of working and provided much valued support and contact to our members.

There will be a u3a near you in Shropshire or Wolverhampton, so why not see what it has to offer you?

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