Growing old, staying curious in spite of lockdown

Just because you have retired, it doesn’t mean you have to stop learning.

NEVER STOP LEARNING: One of the many courses offered by the East London branch of U3A is mahjong, a popular tile-based game that originated in ancient China Picture: PIXABAY

This is the philosophy behind the University of the Third Age (U3A), which has been running in East London since 2004 and currently boasts more than 200 members.

Despite the interesting name, the University of the Third Age is not some new-age project, though member John Stoddard jokes that it has been confused as such in the past.

Rather, the name refers to the “third age” of a person’s life.

“Being a child and growing up is the first age; becoming an adult and working for a living is the second; the third age is when you finally retire,” he said.

U3A is actually a branch of an international project, first started in 1973 in France.

“It came to South Africa [Cape Town] 20 years ago and Sally Fletcher brought it to East London in 2004 and it has continued ever since,” he said.

U3A runs a wide variety of different courses every week, such as creative writing, history discussions and even beginner lessons in isiXhosa.

But like all things, U3A has been severely disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Everything stopped at a time when the elderly are most vulnerable, cut off from family and friends, feeling alone and afraid,” Stoddard said.

However, U3A members have found ways to continue even while confined at home.

“This period has seen a burgeoning in the virtual world.

“Such services as Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams suddenly appeared and various U3As around the world have grasped these.

“For example, the branch in Cape Town lists virtual artistic performances around the world, while the U3A in Cambridge, UK, has over 50 Zoom courses going, including Latin!

“The East London branch has a weekly e-mailed newsletter with a quiz, and we have started regular Zoom courses with creative writing, travel and computers.

“We are now linking up with other U3As and they are allowing us to join their virtual courses so we will have quite a full programme,” he said.

For more information visit or contact secretary Gill Ansell at 083-651-7892 or e-mail gillansell@ Entry is R50.


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