Back in March, Cirencester u3a were due to host the AGM of the Cotswold Link, which is a group of some 26 U3As spread across the Cotswolds and even beyond. This was right at the start of Lockdown 1 and the meeting was duly cancelled. However, it was finally held virtually on October 28th and I attended to represent our u3a. For those new to the u3a organisation, Links were started some years ago to encourage discussion across neighbouring U3As so that best practice and ideas could be shared. The formal structure of the u3a movement is National Office, divided into 12 Regions in which we have local U3As such as our own. We are in the SW Region which stretches from Lands End to the north of Gloucestershire and eastwards to include Dorset and Wiltshire, an enormous geographical area. Consequently, 15 networks have developed and the Cotswold Link is one such network. If you want to know more about this Link, please look at https://u3asites.org.uk/cotswold-link/home.
So, what was discussed? It was mainly about what is happening to each individual u3a during the pandemic restrictions. In summary, the picture is pretty much the same everywhere, with Zoom video-conferencing being heavily used, but Groups starting to open up (remember the meeting was before Lockdown 2 was announced). They were in a similar situation regarding loss of members (this ranged from 40% in some smaller U3As to our 15%). They are suffering from a lack of new members coming on board, as we are (we normally average 3 per week versus our current less than 10 in the whole year so far!). My summary is that we are doing no worse than elsewhere, and certainly better than many areas.
Ian McCannah, the u3a national Chairman who was a guest at the meeting, sat and listened to this discussion then spoke about various items…
Membership numbers – he said that it was clear from the discussion, and he is hearing this across the country, that there will need to be a full relaunch of the u3a at the end of restrictions to pro-actively build membership numbers back to and beyond pre-Covid days. National Office will be offering guidance on how to do this and it is likely to become a major activity for us at some stage in 2021.
Subscriptions – National Office need to increase the amount we need to pay them per member to cover their increased costs and your committee will be finalising how we will meet this and other financial challenges (eg. reduced membership) well before the start of our next membership year.
Branding – you may have noticed that I have used lowercase letters when writing “u3a” above. This is deliberate and in-line with the new logo introduced by National Office. Not long ago they decreed that we should drop the use of the word University from our title and introduced the strap-line “Learn-Laugh-Live” Now the latest branding is to use lowercase letters throughout - “u3a, learn-laugh-live” and they have commissioned a special font to use on our web-site and newsletter; we will move to this shortly.
Now that we are in lockdown 2, I do hope that you are all keeping well and staying safe, and that this level of restriction will be with us for a short time so that we can resume some level of normality.