HUNDREDS of retired and semi-retired residents across Barnsley are living their best lives as part of a unique charitable organisation that has created a bustling community offering a vast array of activities.

For people from all walks of life - such as ex-football referees, teachers, physiotherapists, pastors, nurses, dinners ladies and doctors to name but a few - the Barnsley U3A puts fun and fulfilment into members’ spare time.

Vanda Outram sits on the committee of the organisation and has been involved since she retired nine years ago.

“Retirement is a funny thing because even though you know it’s going to happen, it can be a bit like a bereavement,” she said.

“It’s that same kind of feeling - one day you’re working and then the next day it’s gone.

“When I retired, the U3A was a real lifeline.

“I needed something to fill my days and it came along and was a gift from heaven for me.

“When you stop working you lose that social aspect too and U3A replaces that for a lot of people.

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“It gives you a sense of belonging again - this is especially the case if you have been bereaved, too.

“Many of my friends I have made through the group and it’s great to spend time with like-minded people.

“There are no age limits for membership and some people join when they stop working full-time rather than when the actually retire.

“It’s here for anyone who has time to enjoy it.”

The Barnsley and District U3A was set up in July 1996 with 30 members - today it boasts a membership of over 1,300 with a mind-boggling number of activities and over 100 groups currently active.

It’s all run by volunteers with many of the members offering sessions and pursuits that they have experience in.

“The voluntary aspect is so important, it just wouldn’t run without volunteers,” said Vanda.

There’s huge diversity to the activity and interest groups, including language, arts, music, science, technology, and sporting activities, even wine tasting online ’so you don’t have to worry about getting home’.

From monthly talks to leisure activities, fitness classes to outings, there’s a packed schedule for members to choose from.

“Our members have lots of past experience that they can share with others by setting up a group,” Vanda added.

“A couple who had been in a band joined us after they lost their lead singer, they entertain us as Geri and the Atrix and that has replaced a part of their life and added something to our organisation.

“We have our own choir and even a magician in our midst.

“I think there really is something for everyone at the U3A and it’s an opportunity to step out into the real world in a friendly, safe environment.

“For some people their only companion is the TV and even if you only attend one group a week, it can bring a purpose to your life, something to look forward to and there really is lots of friendship and laughter.”