U3A Conversation Cafe
Under the section titled Research I started to write about my plans for a Conversation Cafe and this is where tht story continues.
In October 2019 the Minehead Branch of U3A recognised that it had over 300 members. Many of these members live in the villages surrounding Minehead with a large number in the area of Williton and Watchet, where I live. It was noted that many of these members did not attend any of the organised groups or outings but did attend the monthly coffee morning. A meeting was arranged by the U3A at the new Williton Pavillion Community Centre and local U3A members were invited to come along, and we were canvassed to find members interested in supporting development of more local groups. Several of us expressed our interest.
It was agreed that the next U3A Coffee morning would be held at the Williton Pavillion as it offered such good accommodation and amenities. We were asked to arrange this meeting and set the agenda which we did. A copy of the U3A September newsletter outlining our planned Coffee Morning for October along with all the news on the various groups and an outline of my proposed new group 'A Conversation Cafe' was included. Add link
We were asked to produce a flyer for the coffee morning which one of my colleagues spent a great deal of time preparing only for it to be sent back as it did not meet U3A guidelines with a very sharp note. My colleague deleted the flyer and refused to help further. It was an indication of what was to come.
The coffeemorning was a tremendous success with more people attending than had attended any of the Minehead based coffee mornings. The speaker and entertainment from the Ukelele band were very well received and the audience sang along with the players.
As the only U3A member resident in Williton I arranged the venue booking and collection of keys as the U3A was able to access a discount for the venue through me.
Our newly formed group of volunteers were keen to follow this up with further coffee mornings and new groups. I was invited to attend a U3A Committee meeting with a view to seeing if I would like to become a member of the committee, also to be party to the discussions about the future.
On arrival they had forgotten why I was there and assumed I had already decided to become a committee member and treated me accordingly. After a discussion where it was clear that there were concerns about how well the coffee morning in Williton had gone and fears over 'splitting' the membership it was decided not to organise any further coffee mornings in the Williton/Watchet area.
I explained that with current commitments I could not take on a role on the committee and had been there purely as invited to see how the committee planned to develop their plans for Williton. As this was not going to proceed there was no incnetive for me to join the commitee. I left feeling manipulated and a little angry at the arrogance.
I took the matter up with the Chairman who explained that the national board of th U3A had been approached by government to extend the range of services they offer and broaden their links in the community and the Williton coffee morning was the first step towards this. However there was much resistance from existing members of the committee and a little sabotage which had to be overcome. He was determined to persist but explained that as a voluntary organisation there was a risk they could lose experienced people who held key knowledge and experience in the Minehead branch.
About the U3A
I was becoming more aware of the politics of the organisation. The U3A headquarters in London hosts a website on the protocols and procedures of how to do anything in th U3A. There is a summer school each year which covers a whole host of subjects but also how to become a convenor of a group and local training is also provided.
I had booked on a Convenors training but sadly it was cancelled. I'm writing this on 25th February and note new dates for this training have just been published.
Having made a tentative start to getting the Conversation Café off the ground we had our first meeting at Doniford Farm Café in October 2019. Three people attended other than myself. A new acquaintance who is part of the Williton U3A team, an ex teacher who was starting up a local book group came along to support me, a chap from an outlying village who said he would not be able to attend regularly and another chap from the church who was very interested in Adler. Out of the three two dropped out due to poor health and that left one irregular member.
There were no other enquiries or expressions of interest.
I also determined that the venue I had chosen was too cold and noisy for the group. Something to bear in mind as people pass the age of 60 is the difficulties in hearing and for others the need to be warm and near a loo!!
November had one attendee. December which I arranged to do at my home there were none!
I was invited by U3A committee to put a full write up into the January newsletter which I did. It turned out that despite my having written an outline of the group for the October and November newsletters these were edited down so that they did not really explain the purpose of the group. I was becoming frustrated by the role of the Minehead committee in making changes without checking with me.
Having discussed this situation with a member of the committee I was invited to use the January coffee morning to promote the Conversation Café. The meeting was scheduled to take place in the Beech Hotel in Minehead, well positioned and set up to accommodate a large group of people. I was asked to give a talk on my group in a separate area along with sharing a stand with others from Williton and Watchet where we could promote our groups.
I gave my talk on the group but sadly the sound system was not working and the room was being used by U3A members who wanted to sit and drink coffee and chat and they talked over my presentation. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that a large number of people were very interested in the Conversation Café and wanted to come along but when they found they would have to travel to Williton told me that would not be possible for them. Either they didn’t drive or just did not want to go outside of Minehead. I was not prepared for this response.