Current and Recent Projects

Below is a list of currently open and recently completed Research and Shared Learning projects. If you need further inspiration for your own project you can also have a look through the research database.

Current Research and Shared Learning Projects

These are open to any member, and you can sign up for information about related events and opportunities. You do not need to join via your own u3a, but you might get more out of a project if you have some local buddies.
You can also use these projects as a starting point for a local or network-wide u3a group.

Their Finest Hour

Their Finest Hour is a nationwide project organised by Oxford University. It aims to record for posterity those memories handed down in families, of life during and after the events of 1939-1945. You don’t need to have been there, but maybe your family talked about ‘the war’. Maybe you have snapshots, or objects, that have significance in your family. Your family memories may be from military life, or may be based in home life or in working life, but all are valued.

The best way to take part in ‘Their Finest Hour’ is to sign up to the mailing list so you get to know what’s happening near you. In particular, on 25th May in the afternoon there will be a zoom session for all those on the mailing list to explain more about the project and ask questions.

Family Photos and Family Histories 

This project is led jointly by Leeds and Royal Holloway universities and explores the way families document their lives and experiences through personal photography. You can email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to attend our Zoom meetings and discussions.

Inheriting the Family (2024) 

a swen collage frame surrounding a black and white photo of a woman on a bike

Photo by Jennifer Simpson, see 'Inheriting the Family'

Inheriting the Family is another proposal, following on from Family Histories and Family Photos, and it will start in 2024. It is at the early stages of planning right now, and will involve gathering and creatively interpreting those tales handed down in our families, from all aspects of daily life. See Jennifer Simpson’s example above, based on a photo of her mother cycling, using fabrics embroidered or worn by her mother. More news of this project will be circulated as it becomes available.

north down and ards Heritage Group members in training to produce their first filmNorth Down and Ards Filmaking Group

North Down and Ards u3a, who have long-running links with North Down Museum, have deployed their own members' skills as well as local media providers to learn how to record and edit short films. Read their full informative article on the Sources blog.

Examples of recent projects

The High Street Project

High Street Project Ystrad Mynach courtesy Michael Benjamin

This started in September 2020 and has three tiers of activity: surveying local shopping streets, taking photos, and identifying a local idea or ideas to explore further.

As a participant you get to take charge of your own photos on the High Street website where you can upload photos and documents about your area. Local ideas that members are developing so far include tracing local changes since the 1960s, getting involved with local Neighbourhood Plans, gathering reminiscences of the shops of our childhood, art and sketching and making guided walks.

Find out how Hannah Lucas and the Barnsley group used their survey work as a springboard for enriching civic life and planning, leading to their local Archives winning a national award for community involvement.

High Street Project Kingston courtesy Bob Higgins

You can view the project website hosting your photographs, survey results and further projects. This will be around and available until 2032.
For more information and to be included on the mailing list, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Stukeley Memoirs Project

Read Mandy Topp's report on historical research and digitisation in the East Midlands. 

King's Lynn Town Trails

Ann Higgins led a group who created a series of local town trails, which were then shared with King's Lynn Tourist Information Centre See the Pub trail.

Sheffield Story-Catchers

Read about Samina Aslam and Martin Harvey's contribution to the “Story Catchers” project.

u3a-Coram Foundlings Project 2021-2022

This was a major project with the Coram Foundation, based on helping to transcribe and research the ‘petitions’ made by desperate mothers who were giving up their babies to be taken into the Coram Foundling Hospital.
Over 150 members took part, from all regions and nations of the UK, and were able to hone new digital skills alongside delving into ‘real’ history i.e. getting elbow deep in the detective work of correlating many archival sources to join the dots of a past life.

Our members became quite attached to ‘their’ research subjects and treated the exercise like Family History, with all its joys of discovery and frustrations of hitting dead-ends. We realised that many women may have adopted new identities and so have become untraceable in the historic record.
The 300-plus transcriptions and 50-plus research documents done by u3a members will make it quicker and easier for others to use the petition records as a starting point, be it to locate a person in the past or to look for social-historical patterns from population data.

Read more about the project on the Coram Story website.

u3a in the Time of Corona

In April 2020, Subject advisers Jo Livingston and Jennifer Simpson began gathering diary entries from u3a members around the UK. This ‘Diary Project’ resulted in a book, ‘u3a in the Time of Corona’, drawn from members’ contributions describing what turned out to be the first lockdown in 2020.

It includes efforts to get a supermarket delivery and how to manage without a haircut, as well as how our members filled all that spare time and tried to keep the u3a going. After the first print run sold out, a second printing has been completed and you can buy a diary for £10 from the brand centre.

Part 1 of the diary, 'u3a in the Time of Corona' is available to order in paperback from the u3a Brand centre (separate login required).

Part 2 of the diary was produced in 2021, and is available as a free download.

book cover for time of corona

Our 1901 Postal Pensioners led by Kings College London

postal Pensioners

In October 2020, 47 U3A members from South West England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland started working towards a collective biography of 96 pensioners who retired from the Post Office in 1901, the first year that a full census is available for England, Scotland, and Ireland.

As well as leading, guiding and collating the research, the team from KCL also arranged a season of lunchtime talks for u3a members via Zoom covering pensions history, the history of pandemics in the Post Office, health in turn of the century Belfast, death certificate histories, and histories of health in South-West England. These talks were extremely well attended and greatly appreciated by u3a members.

Happiness across the Ages

Lessons and tips from a collaborative, intergenerational, interdisciplinary research project on happiness devised by Exeter University and Exeter u3a. As well as background and a description of the project, the booklet contains a useful toolkit that can be applied to all project planning and implementation

Happiness Across the Ages booklet (1.07 MB)

Guardian Foundation Pitman Diaries transcription project – from article by Margaret Derrick

The Guardian Shorthand Project officially finished at the end of 2020. It involved translating the shorthand diaries of the Guardian’s Africa Correspondent from the 1960s, which is a very specialised skill set! Despite the lockdown arriving in the opening months of the project, the u3a volunteers made great inroads into this area of research and many have decided to continue with it in their own right.

Cary Ellison Theatre programmes

Cary Ellison was a talent spotter who worked for Spotlight magazine and as part of his work he went on twice yearly tours of repertory performances around the country in order to find up and coming actors, directors and plays. The programmes of these productions, heavily annotated by Ellison, are now at Kingston University. U3a members researched the places visited by Cary Ellison around the UK and expanded the detail of Kingston’s contextual knowledge for the Cary Ellison collection.
The project went into hibernation in 2020. If you want further news about this or other theatre studies-related projects please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Your cookie settings
We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. These cookies allow the website to function, collect useful anonymised information about visitors and help to make your user experience better. You can choose which cookies to accept. Declining the use of cookies, may affect your experience of our website.
Accept all
Decline all
Read more
Google Analytics uses performance cookies to track user activity on our website. This information is anonymous and helps us to improve the website.
Google Analytics
Google YouTube
To view YouTube videos