Learning News

As you are probably aware, the learning team at u3a office have been running a series of online talks since 2020 and the covid pandemic. At the time it was an ideal way of reaching members and continuing our learning programme when restrictions were in place.

However we soon realised the value of these talks and their ability to spread knowledge across the country regardless of where members lived. We know that some subject areas, such as art and history, are extremely popular with members through numerous events and requests for resources via national office. But what about the more niche and unusual areas?

We made a conscious decision to be slightly experimental in some of the talks we offered and have reached the conclusion that this is the right approach. Some of the more biographical events have included the life of ‘Sir Thomas Lipton, from Cabin Boy to Tea Tycoon to International Yachtsman’ where Neville Lyons of Guildford u3a traced the extraordinary ‘rags to riches’ story of Sir Thomas’s life.

Neville has given us some background on the subjects of his presentations which look at the less likely heroes of British history:

“My talks are framed around personalities who had a disadvantaged start in life but whose lifetime endeavours were to contribute beneficially to the general public. Sir Joseph (Joe) Lyons and his partner cofounders from the Salmon & Gluckstein families were of humble origin but gave rise to the First Food Empire and the world’s first business computer, LEO. While Sir Thomas Lipton, born and raised in the Gorbals district of Glasgow, rose from Cabin Boy to Tea Tycoon, to International Yachtsman and Philanthropist.”

Other areas like sustainability are never far from the news but what about subjects such as fast fashion? Helen Howard from Canterbury u3a brought some issues to our attention that many of us are not aware of. In ‘Fashion’s Dumping Ground’ Helen revealed that about 1.4 million tonnes of discarded clothes are exported to countries such as Ghana and Kenya with a recent report on the situation in Kenya suggesting that over recent years 300 million items of unsaleable synthetic clothing has been dumped in landfill or burned. 

Helen told us: “Clothing is the perfect case study for getting to grips with the circular economy because we all wear clothes and so many people donate their cast off clothes to charity shops. It’s a good way in to seeing the central importance of climate change, understanding sustainability, and the impact of waste colonialism on the Global South. It also helps people to understand that when clothes are very cheap it is often because of exploitation of garment workers, and environmental damage. We as consumers have more power than we think.”

One member told us that the talk ‘Made me very aware of such a serious situation and what we don't know about some of these big companies "behind the scenes". Thank you.’

In the History of the British Secret Intelligence Services Moira MacQuaide, Guildford u3a, talked us through and presented on her connection to the Intelligence Services, some early history of espionage, 20th century intelligence services, including MI5, MI6, GCHQ, Bletchley Park and Counter Terrorism and famous spies.

Moira said: “I was interested in the subject of the secret intelligence services because I have always wondered about some of the stories that get into the media that would appear to inform other countries' intelligence services of what we are doing.  I have never worked in any of these areas, which is why I made my talk "As portrayed in the media".  So, in my opinion, it could be concerning that the media publicises travel plans of prominent people, what appear to be plans to protect our territories, or the state of our military forces.  Mark Twain said "If you don't read newspapers then you're uninformed.  If you do read newspapers then you're misinformed."  I think he might be right!”

Comments from members included: ‘It was a fabulous talk, very well researched and presented, with a variety of information that some of us would remember but lots of new facts. I was absorbed for the whole hour. I’m now looking for job with the secret service’

If you have a talk that you think would capture the inmagination of members please do contact us on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to share your thoughts with us. No matter how niche you think it may be, we guarantee there will be an audience for it! 

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