Plymouth University of the Third Age

Chairman's AGM Report 2017

The Chairman (John Dobson) was delighted to say that Plymouth U3A is in good health, with a strong membership and a wide range of Groups. He advised the meeting that the membership total was 955 on 23rd April, amounting to an increase of about 30 members which was similar to other years. Of these, he noted that about three quarters (744), are on email and he was grateful to those who have elected to receive all the information this way. He explained that not only are these members always up to date on information, but the savings in printing, postage and man-hours, handling what people now call ‘snail-mail’, are considerable. The committee is always looking for ways to keep subscriptions down to a minimum, and email communication helps in this respect. The Chairman asked that if any members on email haven’t declared their agreement to receive information this way, would they please do so. He stated that the website is being improved and will give you the latest information when you log-on, which he urged members to do on a regular basis. This U3A is extremely fortunate to have a member who is an expert Webmaster, John Reffell, who provides us with a free service, something which other U3As have to pay for. The Chairman thanked John Reffell for his work. John Dobson stated he understood that not everyone is comfortable with computers and electronic communication, and for these diminishing numbers, we shall continue to do our best to keep you informed.

He explained that it was, of course, this brilliant website that attracted the students from South Korea to choose Plymouth from all the U3As in the country and request a visit to us in January this year. He advised the meeting that the students were delighted to take back to South Korea lots of ideas from us that they will propose be introduced in their capital, Seoul.

Regarding communications, the Chairman reminded members that it had already been announced that the thrice annual newsletter was being discontinued, and will be replaced by an annual Directory that will look very much like the current newsletter and be reissued in June each year, being augmented by a 1 or 2 page update a few times a year. He told the meeting that having examined the newsletter it was found that it changed very little through the year, yet was expensive to produce. Ever conscious of keeping costs down, and therefore the annual subscription, the committee believe that the new system will provide members with all the information they need at a lower cost.  The Plymouth U3A fees are amongst the cheapest in the country.

The Chairman then proceeded to discuss the contract for the General Meeting room at the Holiday Inn that expires at the end of the year. Although it is not cheap, representing about 25% of our total outgoings, he understood that members were entirely satisfied with the excellent arrangements provided for them. He advised that a meeting with the hotel management in the next few months is planned to negotiate a further 3-year contract, hopefully at no increase to our monthly rate: if an agreement cannot be achieved an alternative venue will need to be considered for our monthly meeting. The Chairman was pleased to say that these meetings are increasingly popular and in February this year we had a record attendance of 311 members and visitors, so it will be difficult to find a place large enough for our increasing need.

John Dobson advised that the group structure within our U3A is solid having in excess of 70 groups with several new groups added this year. Of particular note is the Really Useful Group (RUG) which consists of those good people who are prepared to volunteer and help in various ways. They raise funds by holding a raffle at each monthly meeting and have recently re-introduced theatre trips. Continuing with the subject of volunteers the Chairman reiterated that as a ‘bottom-up’ organisation we do everything ourselves and without volunteers we simply cease to exist. He reminded the members that this very nearly happened last year when no-one came forward to take the place of our retiring Treasurer. He explained that we were on the verge of calling an Extraordinary General Meeting to wind down our U3A, which would have been a tragedy, when John Hart came forward to volunteer; the Chairman thanked John for taking on this task and said that we are extremely fortunate to have such a competent and diligent Treasurer.

The Chairman stated that he would like to recruit an extra 2 volunteers to join the Executive Committee as members ‘without portfolio’. The idea is that these members would shadow work being done by committee members and therefore be ready to step in at any time providing an element of continuity. He asked any member who may be interested to approach or email a committee member for further details.

Returning to the theme of groups John Dobson said he had noted that a number of groups state that they are full and have a waiting list. He pointed out that the National Office considers that there is no such thing as a waiting list, as those waiting should be encouraged to start a new group with that particular title – e.g. we have four wine tasting groups.  Assistance will be given to anyone who would like to start a new group, and if you would like to do this, please contact Richard Keoghoe, our new Group Coordinator, who will be very happy to help and advice. The Chairman stated that new groups and members help to maintain an organic U3A.

The Chairman advised the meeting that our relationship with Plymouth University remains strong, and he thanked Janet Vosper and her colleagues for all their efforts. Members participate in many University areas, helping students at the language café and in various research projects. A recent innovation is a trial project for a small group of members to act as mentors for potential overseas postgraduate students at the university. We wait with interest to see the effectiveness of this idea put forward by the Dean of Business Studies.

Looking forward the Chairman reminded the members that we shall be celebrating our 20th Anniversary next year. Already a team led by Richard Keoghoe is preparing a DVD of our activities which will be available to members for the very modest price of £1 next year. He stated that the Committee would welcome ideas on how we should celebrate this landmark event, and asked members to tell us about any ideas they may have.

The Chairman then thanked other members of the Executive Committee, who had not been mentioned, for their hard work undertaken in their own time on the members’ behalf: Susan our membership Secretary, Andrea our Business Secretary, Trish our Minutes Secretary, Margaret our former Newsletter Secretary, who will be replaced by Marilyn, subject to the members approval, Chris Shorrocks our equipment officer, Richard Keoghoe our co-opted Group Coordinator together with David Warren who has also been a co-opted Group Co-ordinator during this year, and, of course, Sandra our Welcome and Promotions officer. He advised the meeting that some of the committee will be seeking election or re-election later in the proceedings. The Chairman also thanked Rod East our former chairman, who stood down shortly after last year’s AGM for family reasons, and Bill Bertram who replaced Rod, who sadly stood down following an operation from which he is recovering. John Dobson wished Bill a speedy recovery on the members’ behalf.

The Chairman ended his report with some details about the U3A movement and our place within it. He stated that it is now 30 years since the U3A movement started (1982) and it is now nearly 20 years since Plymouth U3A began. We are one of more than a thousand (1010), U3As around the country with a membership of around 375,000. The Chairman believes that we have a good mix of educational, social and recreational opportunities which contribute greatly to members’ overall health and wellbeing and he is very proud to be part of this organisation.

John Dobson