A LATER-life learning group in Southampton has celebrated its 25th birthday.

City mayor Les Harris cut the cake as more than 100 members of Southampton’s University of the Third Age (U3A) gathered to celebrate two and a half decades of teaching and learning.

Speaking at the event, held at Shirley Methodist Church, the mayor praised the “tremendous” achievement of the group.

The group’s current chair, Len Mockett, also expressed his delight at the group reaching its 25th birthday.

The 83-year-old, who only became chair of the group last month, said: “I think it’s a fantastic achievement. I hope it continues for another 25 years and beyond.”

First formed in 1992, Southampton’s U3A set out to bring together experienced individuals who wanted to keep learning in later life.

Meeting for the first time on September 14 at Sembal House, the founders began by setting up small interest groups for various topics, including history.

Within three years, the city’s ever expanding U3A had more than 100 members and a growing number of interest groups.

Over the next two decades the U3A continued to expand and today has more than 450 members and over 60 groups covering a wide range of topics.

These include, walking groups, town studies and even language lessons.

One class currently offered by the group is advanced French, led by retired teacher Gillian Gain, who has been a member since 1996.

Speaking about the group, Mrs Gain, 84, said: “My husband was French so that’s why I’m bi-lingual.

“I lead the advanced French group which is a small group dedicated to learning the language.

“I enjoy teaching my lesson and learning new things. It’s nice to be able to share my skills with other people.”

The group, which is a registered charity and cost £20-per-year to be a member of, hold a monthly meeting every first Tuesday of the month at Shirley Methodist Church.

The meetings are regularly attended by more than 100 members, who use the opportunity to socialise and discuss new ideas.

Special interest groups, which are held either at a member’s house or at a set location, are held at the teacher’s discretion.

Around the UK, the U3A currently has more than 1,000 groups with a total of over 400,000 members.

Formed more than 35 years ago, the group’s mission statement is to encourage groups of people in their “third age” to come together and continue their enjoyment of learning.

The national group define the “’third age” as a time in life where people have the opportunity to undertake learning for its own sake.

Although there is no minimum age, the group aims to focus on people who are no longer in full-time employment or raising a family.

Max Childs, 82, retired banker from Bitterne, said: “I joined the U3A just after I retired as a social activity and they had a lot of things that interested me.“There are lots of little groups including one that looks at towns and then we visit them. That’s one of the most interesting groups I belong to.”

Katherine Wood, 66, retired nurse from Shirley, said: “I joined because I live on my own didn’t want to just be doing nothing. I joined for social activities and to learn things.”

Brian Eldridge, 73, from Lordswood, said: “To me it’s about social activities and it’s good for physical activity and cognitive ability.”

“My favourite thing is the general meetings and I’ve spent many happy years in the walking group.”