Space for the third age

Melbourne City’s University of the Third Age (U3A) was the first to be established in Australia and is the biggest in Victoria, but the volunteer-run organisation is under increased pressure from rental demand.

U3As provide activity for those in retirement – the “third age”. The Melbourne U3A has over 1500 members and offers 80 year-long classes that include current affairs, history, chess, crafts, cryptic crosswords, bike riding, languages and philosophy. 

There are 108 U3As in Victoria, but vice president Russell Huntington said almost none offered the same comprehensive program as theirs did.

But Mr Huntington said the Melbourne U3A is also unlike most others because of the rental pressures of the city. 

“We haven’t got any free accommodation and typically, but not always, U3As will have space given to them by the local municipality in some way or another,” Mr Huntington said.

“We must pay rent everywhere. We have 13 different locations around the city, and we pay rent for all of them.”

The Hawthorn U3A, for example, has purpose-built free accommodation provided by the Stonnington City Council.

“I’m sure it’s difficult for Melbourne City Council to come up with a whole building because the land and the properties are too expensive, they wouldn’t have something like that available,” Mr Huntington said. 

“But they have opportunities and that’s what we’re pursuing.”

Mr Huntington said 75 per cent of the organisation’s income went to paying rent. U3A is completely volunteer-run, from the board to tutors to office staff.

Each member pays an annual fee. The Melbourne City membership fee is $90, three times the average membership fee because of the rental costs. 

One short-term solution has been to give U3A access to the largely state-funded Men’s Shed under Federation Square. 

Melbourne City U3A was established in 1984. The world’s first was started in Toulouse in France in 1973.

“The concept of university is taken from the classical concept of university – a collection of people with enquiring minds,” Mr Huntingdon said.

“The purpose of joining is fundamentally activity when you’re no longer in a structured existence like at work.”

Mr Huntingdon said while many of their members are city residents, they also have a large number of people travelling in from the suburbs.

“We have a lot more ‘talent’ if you like that we can draw on, but secondly people like coming into the city from the 'burbs when they’ve retired.”

“Many used to work in the city, and they miss having that purpose of coming in every day.”

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