Your Committee has asked me to set out the composition of the Committee and the work the members do, but at the same time thoughts are tumbling around in my mind following the Annual Lecture of Guildford U3A, given by Prof John Hardy of University College London, on the subject of Alzheimer’s disease, writes Acting Chairman Doreen Raine.
I think I shall start with the lecture – or rather the main thought that I retained, and that is heart health. Prof Hardy reported that Alzheimer’s disease was first described 110 years ago in a patient whose brain was found post mortem to be atrophied, with a loss of about a quarter of her brain weight. There was then almost no research from 1906 until 1963.
We now know what causes the dementia in Alzheimer’s disease and that in some families there is a genetic element, that beta amyloid protein accumulates in the brains of people who cannot digest this protein in whom there is thus insufficient clearance, that the resulting plaques have started to form well before the individual presents with identifiable symptoms, and that if we could intervene earlier we might find ways of clearing away the amyloid protein or prevent its manufacture. However, for the moment, we do not have an answer to this, and research is focusing on how to identify and deal with the amyloid concentration long before the clinical signs appear. (Note: this is a VERY brief synopsis of the lecture.)
So where does the link between heart health and the Committee come in? First, many people with dementia have symptoms of both vascular and Alzheimer’s dementia. Then, heart health is related to our general health and its effects on our vascular system, and thus Prof Hardy’s answer to the question ‘what can we do to stave off dementia?’ was that we should maintain a healthy lifestyle and keep active – maintain heart health! (Again, a VERY brief synopsis.)
So this is the connection with U3A – and the Committee!
Most of us have joined U3A because we believe in keeping our minds and bodies active. A typical U3A member is one who has many activities, already serves on other committees and/or is involved in voluntary work in the community. Not to mention grandchildren, responsibilities as carers…!
To keep Dorking & District U3A going – and it is going well: it has a very good heart – there are various individuals and groups of individuals serving this U3A community. We could not function without our Group Leaders, and Monthly Meetings would not be the same without tea and biscuits at the end, but NONE of this would be happening at all if we had no Committee. As a registered Charity, we have to have a Constitution and an elected Committee.
Our Constitution requires us to have four Officers – Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer, each elected for two years at a time. We may have up to eight other Committee members, each elected for one year at a time, with no-one serving for more than nine years. All the Committee members are Trustees of our Charity. We may co-opt two other members to help with specific tasks or to learn about the workings of the Committee. With me so far?
The Chairman is there not to ‘tell the others what to do’, but to ensure that D&D U3A follows its own Constitution and the ethos and guidelines of the U3A. This requires a willingness to look at and remain up to date with the wider picture (the Third Age Trust, National Office, the South East Region, and the Surrey Network of U3As) as well as having an awareness of all that is going on in our U3A and of the work of the other members of the Committee.
The Vice-Chairman is essentially preparing to take on the role of Chairman, i.e., familiarising him/herself with the Chairman’s responsibilities, and takes part in as many U3A activities as is appropriate, both within and outside D&D U3A. Sometimes this involves creating new groups, sometimes introducing and following up innovative ideas (always within the constraints of the Constitution).
The Secretary is the correspondence link between the wider world of U3A and D&D U3A, the holder of important files, and the completer of the Charity Commission annual return. Very often the Secretary has another responsibility within the committee at the same time.
The Secretary also has a responsibility to ensure that Committee meetings are minuted and the Minutes made available to the membership. The Secretary may (and in our case does) delegate this to another person – the Minutes Secretary. The current Minutes Secretary is also our Publicity Officer.
When forming a new U3A, we are told that the first and most important person to identify and appoint is the Treasurer. The Treasurer has the practical handling of all receipts and outgoings, and in D&D U3A the role of Treasurer is quite complicated because we have bookings of halls and coaches, and incidental expenses, and receipt of membership fees and payment of the annual capitation to the Third Age Trust. At any moment there are lots of fiddly things going in and things going out. BUT, because we are a non-profit making, self-help education charity, we have to be very careful NOT to accumulate too much money!
A Membership Secretary deals with applications to join D&D U3A, keeps up-to-date, confidential lists of members with contact details, arranges meetings of new members to enable them to get to know each other and to know members of the committee, and collaborates with the Treasurer in the receipt of membership fees. D&D U3A currently also has a Deputy Membership Secretary who takes particular responsibility for new members.
Monthly Meetings are organised by a Monthly Meetings Secretary who books the speakers, looks after ‘front of house’ and generally makes certain things run smoothly. If it sometimes seems that there is no-one in charge, that is because it is so well under control that the meetings appear to look after themselves, with various people simply fulfilling their roles unobtrusively.
Groups Co-ordinators have oversight of all the interest Groups, initiating/creating new groups when a new subject area reveals itself or a request is made. We also have one Co-ordinator who is specifically responsible for identifying and helping to set up On-Line courses.
We have had a successful and popular Newsletter for many years, and we were recommended to include the Newsletter Editor in the Committee because the Committee members (as Trustees) are jointly responsible for anything that is published in the name of D&D U3A. The same applies to the Dorking U3A website, and our Webmaster is now a member of the Committee. There is considerable work involved in managing the Newsletter and the website, and both editors have recently enlisted assistants who are not committee members.
The D&D U3A Committee is a wonderful group of highly dedicated people. Committee meetings are generally cheerful events, and I have been known to refer to these colleagues as ‘my other family’. I am hugely appreciative of the work they do – I trust that our members are as appreciative.
Our collective heart health is good – let us hope that this bodes well for our brains!