LONG before the concept of the Big Society was heralded, a small group of retired people got together in Sheffield to make new friends and find new interests.
From 25 members, Sheffield University of the Third Age has grown to nearly 2,900, making it the biggest U3A in the country.
Activities range from bridge and history to gardening and walking to photography and belly dancing and an initial six interest groups has shot up to more than 175.
The Sheffield organisation has thrived despite having no premises, no paid staff and an income of less than £30,000 a year. It celebrates its 25th anniversary on Saturday.
None of the original members who met at the Collegiate Crescent campus of the then Sheffield City Polytechnic is still around to attend a civic reception being held tomorrow (Friday) at the town hall. But several who joined soon after will be there, along with trustees, officers and long-serving group co-ordinators.
And an invitation has been accepted by internationally-renowned Sheffield folk singer Roy Bailey, who was Dean of Education, Health and Welfare 25 years ago and allowed Collegiate Crescent to be used for the first meeting. The reception will be hosted by Lord Mayor Alan Law.
As well as providing a platform for interest groups, Sheffield U3A organises day trips, concert visits and short breaks, helps universities with research and provides volunteers to help primary pupils catch up with their reading.
Events are being planned throughout the year, topped by a Jubilee Day at Wortley Hall on June 30 from 10.30am to 4pm.