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mayor of enfield cutting cake for palmers green and southgate u3a fifth birthdayThe Mayor of Enfield, Cllr Kate Anolue, cuts the cake celebrating the 5th anniversary of Palmers Green & Southgate U3A. The current chairman, Mike Bleach (white shirt), and founding chairman, Frances Halliday (far left), look on

In October 2013 Frances Halliday - a recent arrival in Southgate from Hampshire - registered with Palmers Green Community.  In her personal profile, under Interests, she wrote "Setting up a new U3A for Palmers Green and Southgate".  Which is exactly what she went on to do, with the help of a dozen or so enthusiastic local retirees (and some advertising on PGC).  The new U3A held its first meeting, at the Intimate Theatre, in February 2014 and was formally inaugurated at a meeting at the same venue in April 2014, with the Mayor of Enfield doing the honours.

Five and a bit years on, Palmers Green & Southgate U3A is thriving.  Its membership has been growing steadily and is now very close to 400, and new "interest groups" have been springing up - there are now more than fifty, ranging alphabetically from Art to Wine Appreciation.  And to celebrate its fifth anniversary the U3A held an open day last Saturday at Southgate Methodist Church.  The Mayor of Enfield, Cllr Kate Onolue, was invited, and after visiting the many displays put on by members of interest groups to show their activities, she performed the afternoon's key task - cutting the birthday cake.

But what exactly is a U3A?  The abbreviation stands for "University of the Third Age" - there are more than a thousand in the UK - but that expression also needs some explanation.  Wikipedia provides a succinct definition:  "[an organisation] whose aims are the education and stimulation of mainly retired members of the community - those in their third 'age' of life".  The Third Age Trust, the UK-wide body that oversees individual U3As, further explains that "U3A membership is not related to a specific age but to a period in one’s life (the third age) after the second age of full-time employment and parental responsibility. Anybody in their third age can join U3A and this includes people who are working part-time. There is no lower age for membership."

So why "university" when there are no entrance exams and a U3A doesn't hand out degrees or diplomas?  Well, many of the interest groups do provide a chance to study subjects that are taught at normal universities, such as languages, science and technology, creative writing, history, and so on - members pass on their accumulated knowledge to other members.  That's the "education" aspect of the Wikipedia definition, and does correspond to our ideas of a university.

The other aspect of the definition - stimulation - is just as important, if not more so, and explains why Palmers Green & Southgate U3A interest groups include "subjects" like Scrabble, Bowling, Rummikub, Come Dine With Me, Members On Their Own and Remember When.

And, of course, there's also the concept of the "university of life" - the way we all learn and pick up skills from our interactions with other people.  And if there's one thing that Palmers Green & Southgate U3A excels in, it's providing chances to meet and interact with new people!

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