About Us

Short History of The Third Age Movement

The University of the Third Age shall consist of a body of people who undertake to learn and to help others to learn”

The concept of dividing human life into a number of ages is far from new. The term “third age” to describe the period of life when gainful work has ceased seems to date from about 1970, when French universities were required by government decree to make provision for older people. This was all the more necessary because France lacked the adult education facilities that we in the U.K. have long enjoyed.

An exploratory conference held at Cambridge in 1982 produced firm proposals for a U3A structure and the setting up of a national committee. Such was the enthusiasm that within a year or so several were established.
The French pattern of close contact between universities and local committees could not be followed in this country. Instead, the national committee embarked on the now familiar system of self-help and mutual aid, and in 1983 founded the Third Age Trust to act as parent body.

All local U3As are free to pursue their own ideas within the limits of their own constitutions, and subject to their status as educational charities if they have opted to become a registered charity.

Member U3As pay capitation fees to the Trust. The fees, supplemented by grants from corporate bodies and charitable foundations, finance its work and in particular its national office in London which acts as an information and advice cent

Aylesbury Vale u3a - The Early Days - Recollections from two founding members

Memories provided by Barbara Whitaker, (membership number 2)  

A meeting was advertised in the Bucks Herald, with regard to forming the Aylesbury Vale Branch of the U3A, and was attended by about 80 people. It had been convened by Eric Dorrance the retired Head of the Grange School, after consulting with the Bucks CC Education Department, several of whose staff became our first members. Eric had been to meetings of the Thame branch and thought it would be a good idea to have U3A in Aylesbury. As a result. the branch was started and about 80 people came to the first meeting.

An ad hoc committee was formed with Eric as Chairman, Lesley Holloway as Secretary, soon succeeded by John Mason, and me, Barbara Whittaker, as treasurer. Poetry and Play Reading, Psychology, Geology, History of Art and London Walks were amongst early groups led by volunteers from the Bucks CC contingent, and anyone else who expressed an interest in a subject found himself leading a group in it. We were all soon very busy.

Eric was particularly keen that education was the overall theme, and that the U3A idea of ‘You teach me and I’ll teach you’ was strictly adhered to, with no professional speakers allowed. Group Leaders were expected to swot up their subject and pass on what they had learned to their members.

Speakers at the early monthly meetings came from volunteers amongst the members: Jake Kendall spoke on Birds, a member of the British Deer Society spoke about deer, Eric spoke on Geology and Suzanne Carr gave a talk on ‘Faces in Art’ – our first outside speaker. Another was a vicar who was expected to talk about being a prison chaplain, but instead spoke about God. Eric found us several speakers by going to give a talk to an organisation and instead of accepting a fee would ask someone from there to come and speak to us.

Our first coach outing was to see ‘Hobson’s Choice’ at the theatre in Oxford, and the first Study Group trip was to Sheffield, where we stayed at a University Hall of Residence and had days out into Derbyshire, to the Blue John Mines, a walk led by Keith Potter and a visit to the Sheffield Assay Office. One night the fire alarm went off, and we all trouped outside in various states of undress (one person being fully dressed and carrying his rucksack, another holding up his pyjama trousers as the cord had broken), only to find that one of our members had burnt their toast. One member slept through the whole kerfuffle and didn’t appear.  No-one had thought to count the numbers, or he would have been dragged outside with everyone else.

We had our first quiz on the coach going home and the one who remembered most about what we’d seen received a very small prize. It was decided that the trip away should be an annual event, and on subsequent trips members were sometimes heard saying ‘Make a note of that, she’ll ask us about it in the quiz’.

And, that, to the best of my failing memory, was how our U3A got started, and when I read the Newsletter nowadays it’s a thrill to find that much of the original U3A still exists.

Memories provided by Mary Rogers (membership number 47)

AVU3A was started in 1997/8 by Eric Dorrance a retired headmaster from the Grange secondary school. Eric was a member of the U3A in Thame which was the only local one in this area though of course a different county!

I first heard of his hope to start one in Aylesbury when he came to give a talk on the National Trust to a group I belonged to in Haddenham and he told us of a meeting to be held the following week in the Civic centre (now long gone) to establish whether there was sufficient interest in having one here. The response was amazing with a packed room to hear about this wonderful new organisation. He had the support of SirRoy Harding the Chief Education Officer for Bucks who became our one and only President and initially we used rooms at the Grange for some of the groups free of charge but only after the end of lessons I believe. We also had a connection with the Grammar school and we gave a prize annually but Shirley Stokes could tell you more about this as I know she attended some of their prize giving evenings in this capacity. Lesley Holloway was our first secretary but retired from this fairly soon for personal reasons so John Mason a friend of Eric stepped into the breach and continued for many years. Alan Dell was our treasurer and Geoffrey Wood was membership secretary.

We met in Quarrenden first and were a much smaller group in those days. Barbara Whitaker organised many trips including the holidays (now called study days) the first being to Sheffield where we stayed in one of the university halls. These were meticulously planned with both Barbara and Eric spending a few days in the area beforehand to ensure everything ran smoothly – even our coffee stops had been catered for with the venues told in advance to expect us. I have many happy memories of these trips and places we visited, coal mine, blue John mine, under the Humber Bridge, too numerous to mention and of course the camaraderie of the people sharing it all with

Eric’s enthusiasm was infectious and he was great at persuading folk to start different groups, I had just started to play bowls with my father not really taking it seriously but Eric said he wanted to learn and we could do it together if I formed a group, something I ended up running for over 20 years! Sadly it was on one of the bowls holidays I had arranged that Eric had the heart attack that killed him.

As our U3A grew in numbers we had to move our monthly meetings going secondly to Hazel’s hall ( another place no longer there), then to the Social club opposite Stoke Mandeville hospital followed by a move to Aylesbury football club when it was next to Watermead and I’m sure you know the rest, Meadowcroft etc.

Of course thanks to Eric’s foresight we have many more U3A’s locally and we helped to found both MidBucks and Wendover when our numbers grew too large. I think Aylesbury was possibly the first one in the County but we need our local history group to investigate this but what a truly wonderful legacy to have been instrumental in enhancing so many lives


We have discovered a copy of the Newsletter produced to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of our u3a with articles about the foundation of AVu3a