How it began

The North Devon Third Age Group, or University of the Third Age, was established in Barnstaple in December 1983 as part of a national network designed to bring together retired people for social, educational and leisure activities. By 1987 there was such a long waiting list of people eager to join that it was decided to form branches in Bideford, Ilfracombe and South Molton. The inaugural meeting in the Goose & Gander Hotel, South Molton (now The Old Coaching Inn) on 15th September 1987 attracted a very large crowd and by the end of September there were 86 paid-up members, the fee being 6 for a couple and 4 single p.a. It was particularly easy to establish this group as so many had been members of the original Barnstaple Group and welcomed the chance of meeting in their own locality. The success of the South Molton Group meant that accommodation became a difficulty here, too, especially as the Goose & Gander had to close due to a fire and our next venue, The George Hotel, was not so large. By the end of 1987 no new members could be taken and a waiting list had to be started. Lunch meetings with a speaker were established on the second Tuesday of each month and study groups were formed. The programme for 1988 lists 16 study groups, 9 of which have survived in the present list of 22 subjects. Members host meetings in their own homes, where possible, and larger groups meet in small halls. In November 1991, due to The George Hotel also catching fire, we had to meet in the Assembly Rooms which we are still doing. As there is much more accommodation in the Assembly Rooms there is no longer a waiting list and we have around 180 members. These meetings start earlier; coffee is served, monthly business is dealt with and there is a speaker. When there is a visual presentation we meet in one of the local village halls. Three times a year we have lunch meetings.

A Federation of all the North Devon U3As was set up in 1989 but this was dissolved in 1994 when all the Groups applied to the Charity Commission for individual group registration as charitable trusts. Contact between the U3As is still maintained by an exchange of monthly newsletters. South Molton group has also sent a representative to all the annual National Conferences, venues for which have been at universities in England, Wales & Scotland.

The South Molton U3A, in conjunction with other U3As in North Devon, organises trips of varying duration, from day visits to theatres in the region to longer excursions further afield. In 2001-2, our members have visited (in chronological order) Venice, Wells, Plymouth (Chicago (the show)), St Ives and Newlyn, Dawlish (The Merchant of Venice) and Ironbridge.

So many people bless the day they became members of this fast-growing Organisation, especially in this area. People retire to Devon and can quickly meet others who have mutual interests when they join the study groups, which embrace more serious studies, indoor and outdoor leisure activities, arts and crafts and entertainment. They can soon become part of the local community.

Registered charity number 1030012

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