THE National U3A has a very interesting story.

A local distinguished educationalist, Frank Pedley, played a significant part in its development. He was chairman of the national U3A from 1986 -1988 and was responsible for the conception of Settle District U3A in 2001.

Settle District U3A formally came into existence on September 12, 2002 and became a registered charity on January 27 with the trustees the committee members.

Initially 64 members were enrolled. From those members 14 study groups were formed. The annual report of August 2003 states that there were 136 members who have taken part in 1,447 student hours of study over the year.

By September 2007 membership had grown to over 200 and there where 31 groups.

The referral to hours of study is interesting as the original ethos of the U3A was very much geared to learning. Indeed it was the Department of Education and Science who came to the rescue of the U3As rocky introductory years with a grant of £14.900.

In 2007 in an article entitled Celebrate and Reflect Frank himself states: “We are after all an educational organisation, albeit rejecting the formalities of exams, inspections, and fixed meetings, which statutory bodies had to impose - indeed without this emphasis on education we would not be able to claim charitable status.”

Yet although this emphasis on education is stressed in early documents many of the initial founder members, also remember with delight the leisure and fun activities.

Two of the founder members, Alan and Dorothy Hemsworth, explained to me how marvellous the U3A was for meeting people and making new friends especially when new to the area. They remember well the popular monthly outings that stopped five or six years ago and the many interesting older buildings many of which they gained access to because of local contacts.

Another founder member, Janet Stafford, explained how important the social aspect of belonging to the U3A was. Something that has increased in value for her.

On reflection she wondered if there was initially a greater emphasis put on education as those born in the 1930s had less access to it whereas people in their 60s today had access to a good education.

Some for the early groups included; Sunday lunch group, travels tales, listening to music, heraldry, mathematics for fun, and cookery.

Some of the initial groups such as walking, art appreciation, Scrabble and family history still occur today.

The current family history group are busy with an exciting project that has taken on a life of its own. As part of the Parish Church’s 180 year anniversary the group decided to record its gravestone inscriptions before they wore away.

Whilst doing this they thought about who were these people were and what did they do to make Settle the town it is today? The research findings have been incredible - millionaires, suffragettes and entrepreneurs, criminals, bigamists, Lusitania survivors and 20 navvies who were building the Settle to Carlisle railway.

And so the ‘Settle Graveyard Project’ was born.

Over 50 descendants of graveyard burials have contacted the project from all over the world to share information, photos and research.

Since lockdown the U3A has been sending members weekly ‘Tales from the Graveyard’, which have been described as ‘the perfect accompaniment to Tuesday morning coffee!’

Through the Settle Graveyard Project U3A newsletter editor, Sarah Lister, discovered that several families in Settle and Giggleswick have ties going back many years with relatives in Sydney to include Jim Parker who now joins us for meetings by Zoom.

We are now proud to be twinned with his local U3A, Northern Beaches, in Sydney.

Settle is an active member of the ‘WestNet’group of U3As. Representatives from the five WestNet U3As meet regularly, currently via Zoom, and organise joint events and activities. During the coronavirus lockdown Settle U3A has also developed closer ties with U3As across the country, and even the world. Settle U3A now communicates regularly, both through social media and dedicated U3A online forums and is even exploring the possibility of exchanging speakers for subject meetings with U3As as far apart as Lostwithiel in Cornwall and Kingston-upon-Thames.

Settle U3A chairman Les Chandler said: “These links with U3As outside our usual circuit have proved to be both useful and fulfilling. We’re sharing ideas and learning a lot from each other. This can only benefit all U3A members.”

During the coronavirus lockdown the committee wanted to encourage new ways for members to engage and use their unexpected available time. Sue Simpson, our art appreciation group leader, suggested an exhibition to be called “Inside Looking Out”. The initial idea was to record everyday life in Settle during lockdown, to keep a record of this unique historical event through drawing, painting and art works, writing, poetry, photography and handcrafted items of members. A online exhibition was created by group co-ordinator, Jeanne Hine and members submitted images of their creations to be posted in the various online ‘rooms’.

Items that did not easily fit the designated categories went into the ‘The Room of Requirement’.

Submitted pieces included a wall hanging by Annie McGregor of favourite places which she was unable to visit.

Marie Lenehan-Jacobs portrayed the idea of our fragmented lives in these times while Paul Slegg’s sketchbook shows the Butcher’s Shop in deserted streets, where usually, on Tuesdays, the market is bustling.

The many handicrafts showcase the great and varied skill of the U3A members.

There are also‘Teddies for Tragedies’ by Shirley Ellison and a piture by Dorothy Hemsworth of local Highland cattle on the fells.

That our members have used their time so creatively has been a real inspiration. To read more and see more log in to

Although we now have the technology Alison Tyas another founder member still delivers newsletters to those not on email helping our all members to stay in touch.

In normal times she still collects the 50 pence’s for meetings as she has write from the start. It is perhaps worth noting that Alison recalls during that the first committee (2002) preferred that our U3A be called Settle District without the ‘and’ because the initials would have read SAD.

Whilst we currently find ourselves in times where it is currently not always possible to meet face-to-face Settle District U3A has worked hard with its group leaders to continue to offer groups via zoom. Currently 20 of our 42 groups are offering contact and social activity to our 410 members.

I think our members will all say that we at Settle District are far from sad; in fact we are very much still here.

We are in different times doing our best in these challenging times to help our members learn, laugh and live even in adversity.

To see the exhibition online go to: