History of the Vale of Belvoir U3A
Founded by Mary Taylor
By Betty Woodburn
Bottesford is fortunate to be the centre of a large and active branch of the University of the Third Age, the ‘U3A’. Monthly meetings with an invited speaker are held in the Bottesford VC Hall, and there is a wide range of member’s circles with something for all. This account follows conversations with Mary Taylor, the founder of the Vale of Belvoir U3A.
Mary Taylor was bursar then registrar at Belvoir High School and Community Centre for twenty-eight years and was concerned that when people left school they didn’t come back. She looked at all levels of society and from her office window she noticed that on a Monday people were going to the library, at that time based in the school, then on the following Thursday they were there again, visiting the library twice a week for something to do. Following a further appointment as Marketing Manager for the school and community centre she felt that there should be more for the people of Bottesford and organised various functions such as, among other things, a ‘Fishing Evening’ when three hundred men turned up and an ‘Animal Evening’ when three vets came to talk, all planned to bring the community together and back into the school. Then whilst reading a copy of the hairdresser’s ‘Women’s Weekly’, as you do, she came across an article about U3A, University of the Third Age, in Londonderry, Ireland. Mary found this very interesting and asked if she could take the article. She wrote to the address given and was sent lots of information.
Unfortunately everything had to be put on hold as Mary needed a hip operation and fifteen months went by.
In 1994 Mary went to Nottingham along with John, her husband, and Michael and Maureen Brown, to meet and talk to various people involved with U3A there and then when coming home from swimming one day with Beryl Smith and Jean Hammond she happened to ask for their views on U3A in Bottesford and heard a chorus of “When are you going to start one?”
Having obtained permission from the council to use the Fuller Room, notices were put around the village calling interested people to a meeting. Fourteen people came to the meeting to hear a man from Chester, a representative of the U3A there, and another representative from Nottingham tell how they ran the U3A. On leaving the meeting, Rose Kelly, a member to the present day overheard “Well that’ll never take off!”
On the second Tuesday in September 1994 at 2 p.m., the first meeting of The Vale of Belvoir U3A was held in the Fuller Room, to hear a talk given by The Melton Mowbray Planning Officer on the proposed Bottesford Plan and approximately twenty members were there. From that start and during the intervening years the membership number has grown to one hundred and ninety. The afternoon of the second Tuesday of the month became the regular meeting time and in October the talk was on Nuclear Energy. In November a retired professor, a scientist, gave a talk entitled ‘Dreams’ and by December when the Christmas Party was held, the Fuller Room was packed with members. The choir of Belvoir High School provided the entertainment and the late Maureen Edwards brought home made mince pies for everybody. It was a great success.
From strength to strength
From these beginnings the Vale of Belvoir U3A centred in Bottesford went from strength to strength. The first committee consisted of Mary Taylor as Chairman, Irene Chantry as Vice Chairman, Geoffrey Crabtree as Treasurer and Maureen Edwards as Secretary, ably supported by Marion Cole, the late George Maunder and the late Betty Matthews. In the beginning they had no money and a Bring and Buy Stall was started. Members donated books and bric-a-brac, the revenue going towards the hire of the hall. Increase in the number of members meant that the U3A had to move to the V.C.Hall where it meets to the present day. The Village Hall was closed for re-construction in 2003 and so from January of that year until September meetings were held in the Baptist Chapel Rooms.
Mary had a lot of support from ex colleagues and retired staff. She herself started the Creative writing Circle later taken over by the late Margaret Jackson and then Kathleen Fisher. Other circle leaders were Michael Brown Art and Walking; John Taylor took over the Walking Circle which is now organised by Carole Howarth, Angela Baldwin started the Genealogy Circle and June Pedge joined by Maureen Brown and Beryl Stott, Keep Fit and Relaxation known now as Music, Movement and Relaxation. Beryl also ran Balancing Your Life until other commitments took more of her time. Marion and Bob Cole started The Vale Luncheon Circle, so Mary started The Village Luncheon Circle for those members who didn’t have cars. This was later taken over by the late Ray Jackson and is now run by Janet and Frank Kyle.
As new members came along, according to their expertise, more circles were started. Ray Jackson organised a Games Afternoon and he took over The Bridge Circle started by the late Mr. Cleaver and which Win Lockey now runs. Joan Peach opened Playreading, which became so popular that Miranda Martin started a second circle. Ivy Backhouse now runs Playreading 2. Sue Neale ran a German Conversation Circle and later this became the German/French Conversation run by Bob Lockey who also took on, with the help of Clarrie Garnier, the Railway Enthusiast and Transport Circle started by Geoff Crabtree. Denys Cave is responsible for Machine Knitting and has recently opened this circle to hand knitters. Art History is taken by Barbara Pizzey, Calligraphy by Barrie Grice, Music Appreciation by Marjorie and Freddie Critchell and Patchwork and Quilting which is now Needle Craft by Brenda Lucas.
More circles were started by Mary Taylor and have since been taken on by other members. She went to a summer school in Peterborough organised by the U3A and did a course on Pergamano. This became the Parchment Circle run by Sheila Marshall and is now Cardcraft lead by Win Lockey incorporating all these skills. Another of Mary’s pleasures was flower arranging and now the Flower Arranging Circle is lead by Maureen Wright and Ida Hills. The Ten Pin Bowling Circle she started is now organised by Brian Honey and Yolande Coleman. Table Tennis was started by Bobbie Bradnum and in 2006 Neil Fortey, a new member, launched a Local Heritage Circle. The latest new circle is the Singing Circle started in March 2007 and lead by Pat Honey. Opportunity for learning and enjoyment is ever widening.
During the three years that Mary was Chairman she was also Programme Secretary, arranging monthly talks to entertain the members. A difficult job taken from Mary by Sue Neale, Marjorie Critchell and to the present day by Beryl Stott.
Mary set up Wednesday matinee visits to the theatre, later followed by Bobbie Bradnum, also New Members’ Secretary, Neville Sharpe and now Diana and Tony Taffs. These were and still are much appreciated by the theatregoers among the members.
In the first years there were many car outings, such as a visit to Mr. Straw’s House in Worksop that was rounded off at Welbeck Abbey Park. Other outings were to Newark Museum, Pedigree Pet Foods, Grantham Journal, Harlaxton Manor and a very popular visit to the R.A.F. College at Cranwell. Now outings are in the very capable hands of Joan Peach who took on the arduous task of organising three or four trips each year by coach, including the Summer Outing in August when there is no monthly meeting.
July became the month of the Garden Party. This event has taken place each year from its beginnings in the playground of the old school, since when it has been hosted in various spacious and beautiful gardens by several members of the U3A. Mary knew of lady members who enjoyed baking and making cakes but whose families had grown and left home, so delicious spreads of both sweet and savoury food refreshments have always been provided by the members for these occasions.
Mary resigned as Chairman after three years in the role, not because she wasn’t enjoying the position but to set a precedent for future chairmen; this was in line with recommendations set by the National U3A. Ray Jackson followed Mary as Chairman and then was Vice Chairman from January 2001 to the late Douglas Bridge-Collyns. Ray resumed as Chairman again in April 2003 when Douglas died. Miranda Martin was voted in as Ray’s Vice Chairman and in April 2005, after the death of Ray, took the position of Acting Chairman with June Pedge as Acting Vice Chairman. Both these posts were confirmed by the membership at the A.G.M. in 2006. Other members holding positions on the committee have been Neville Sharp as Vice Treasurer, John Hills as Vice Chairman to Ray Jackson until December 2000, Trevor Coy as Treasurer and Fred Stott as Secretary, both these to the present day.
The Honorary Persident
The membership proposed that Mary be made Honorary President of the Vale of Belvoir U3A and to mark this honour she was presented with a silver salver at the A.G.M. in January 2001. The following letter appeared in the February 2001 edition of The Vale of Belvoir Newsletter –
Dear Chairman, Committee and all members,
I was overwhelmed when our last Chairman Ray Jackson, presented me with the beautiful silver tray at our A.G.M. It was lovely and a complete surprise and very generous of you all to honour me in this way.
Our U3A has been a success because of every member’s enthusiasm. Without an enthusiastic membership and help from the committee and circle leaders who give their time so generously, we would not have got off the ground.
I am only too pleased that my idea has given so much pleasure to my fellow members and pray that we will all enjoy U3A activities for many years to come.
Those of you who know the VoB U3A in Bottesford will agree that Mary’s prayer was answered. Ideas and plans for ways to celebrate its tenth birthday culminated, on 12th October 2004, in a Tenth Anniversary Luncheon held in the Village Hall when Mary thanked the committee and circle leaders for their time, efforts and expertise. Chairman Ray Jackson, who on the following evening presented a gavel to the Village Hall Committee to mark the occasion, presented Mary with a bouquet.
The monthly newsletter was started by Mary as she had an ‘old typewriter’ and thought it would be a good idea for members to have news of the speakers and what circles there were and when and where they were to be held. Margaret and Ray Jackson had a computer and so they took the newsletter over. A competition was held to design a new cover for the newsletter and the membership voted Marion Cole’s entry the winner, complete with ducks. Miranda Martin took on the production in February 2002 and continued to do so until she became Acting Chairman in April 2005. Betty Woodburn has produced the copy from May of that year to the present day.
Whilst Miranda was producing the newsletter, she also assembled a ‘Welcome Pack’ for new members, informing them of all they needed to know about the Vale of Belvoir branch of U3A. One of these along with a copy of the newsletter was included in the Time Capsule that was buried during the re-construction of Bottesford Village Hall.
Melton Mowbray’s Award of Merit is presented to Mary Taylor
In 2005 Mary received an invitation to attend the Presentation of the Mayor’s Awards of Merit, to be followed by an Afternoon Tea Reception, hosted by the Mayor and Mayoress, Councillor and Mrs David Wright, in the Civic Suite of the Council Offices in Melton Mowbray on Wednesday, April 27th. The award presented to her lists the reasons for her recognition. They read as follows:
Initiating U3A in Bottesford 10 years ago now a founder member and honorary president
Running 17 varying courses/groups
Arranging outings which include many people who live alone
Benefiting over 200 residents of the village
New U3A branches in the area
As a result of Mary’s efforts in Bottesford, ‘spin off’ movements of the U3A have been set up, first in Melton Mowbray where she attended the first meeting in the Gloucester Hall and then two members left and set up U3A in Grantham and Bingham.