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  • Writer's pictureSue Hooper-Lawrie

UPDATE - April/May 2023

When the real Ann Widdecombe stood up ...

Liked or disliked, in possibly equal measure across the land, Ann Widdecombe is an outspoken personality, who is known to all of our generation for her right wing political career and her subsequent appearances on reality TV and documentaries. She has certainly never held back from expounding her strong political views. Hence, inviting her to our speaker programme at the request of several members who had heard her speak, I was aware that there might be those who would choose to stay away.

Luckily the numbers spoke for themselves as a packed hall of 97 members and 4 guests turned up for an engaging and entertaining hour of storytelling. Ann delighted her audience with anecdotes and insights into her long career. She was surprisingly down to earth and extremely funny, and yet one was in no doubt, as to her strength of personality and commitment to her beliefs. She also proved extremely generous, giving us a large donation from the proceeds of the sale of her books on the day (in addition to her making no charge for her appearance in the first place).

The May meeting will be on Friday 5 May (as the hall is being used for local elections

on Thursday)

Our Speaker is Julia Tremlett who will tell us about ....

Glorious Gardens – the National Garden Scheme in Devon’

Starting with a brief history of the NGS, which started in 1927, the talk is illustrated with a lot of gardens in Devon and slides of the new gardens opening for the first time in 2023.

Julia Tremlett is known as the owner of Bickham House at Kenn which has been in her family since 1685. She and her husband have been opening Bickham House gardens since 1993 and Julia has a long association with the National Garden Scheme in Devon.

Monthly Meetings:

Monthly Meetings are held on the FIRST THURSDAY of each month, except January. The meeting starts at 2pm, with members arriving anytime after 1.15pm. We hold our meetings at Willand Village Hall, Gables Road, Willand, EX15 2PL.Check monthly newsletter for more information about arrangements for the upcoming meeting/s.

From the Committee …

We have received a letter from Hospiscare thanking us for our donation of £55. donated by members at the February meeting after the talk.

Since writing the last Committee Update, Janet and I have attended a zoom meeting for Chairs and Vice Chairs, about the Beacon System. Beacon, you may or may not know, is the u3a’s online management system providing a communication hub for u3a groups who chose to use it. Beacon enables us to communicate safely and securely with our members. 1.5 million emails are sent by u3as, using Beacon, each month. It costs £1 per member, per year, and is run by a team of around 40 u3a members, including our own Marian Luck, who generously volunteer their time and efforts to keep Beacon working effectively.

Interestingly the smallest active u3a has just 40 members, and Edinburgh, the largest has 2,400 members.

I have also recently attended a zoom meeting on Finance, where I learned that if you mention you are a member of Culm Valley u3a, when you book a holiday with Riviera Travel, they will pay a commission to u3a National Office. £70,000 has been received this year, in commission from Riviera Travel, which National Office then forwards back to the member's Group.

At our quarterly committee meeting at the end of March we finally completed the updating of all our Policies and Procedures which you can now view on the website. Barbie also confirmed that only 30 out of 191 members are not part of any Interest Group.

Please remember the May meeting will be on Friday 5 May, as the hall is being used for the local elections on the Thursday. We will be serving cakes with the teas, as this is the day before the Coronation.


News from the Interest Groups

Creative Writing Group

We met on 20th March and were in poetry mode. The theme was ‘recycled poems’ which only goes to show there is nothing the recycling trend doesn’t reach!

That produced some irreverent takes and a little bit of Boris bashing – fair game we felt. Did you know that when you look at a design or picture and see in it a face that isn’t part of the drawing, that it has a particular name? Pareidolia – it means “seeing familiar objects or patterns in otherwise random or unrelated objects or patterns.” See – every day is a school day!

Learn to Draw

Read our Half-way Reflections and see some of the amazing work of group members, in the separately attached document

Lunch Out!

In March all 17 of us took ourselves off to The Villa Verde in Rockwell Green. We had a variety of dishes and some had desserts. Good quality food and very well cooked. Everyone agreed that the food was excellent and we will definitely be returning. Not the cheapest but if you want a nice meal, it comes highly recommended by the group.

Strollers 1

Eleven of us met at Magelake in Uffculme for a walk along the river and up to Bridwell. We had welcome refreshments at Bridwell and walked back to Magelake along the old railway track. Once again the weather was beautiful. We all agreed it's so nice to be out in the fresh air in such lovely company. We welcomed a new member, Mike Wragg, his wife Sue hopes to join us in the future.


We had a small, but lively meeting of the photographic group this month. I was able to pass on some of the very useful tips and information from Andy Arnold’s workshop which I know will improve the quality of our images.

Our February meeting had been held at Bridwell so that we could go into the park for our instant challenge. The photos were so diverse, we saw such different photo opportunities. Trisha Luxtons image of a semi submerged boat was voted our favourite for it's ethereal qualities. However, each of the pictures offered were amazing in their own way, including Linda's capture of the grass coming to meet her as she fell over on the hill. It was easy to see how two people could walk along the same path and see totally different photo possibilities.

The challenge for this month was 'Patterns in Nature' which resulted in the best photos we have taken to date. Again Trisha won the trophy for the month with her portrayal of the pebbles on Sidmouth beach. Trisha edited the photo to black and white and cropped it close. It made such a difference to the impact.

Our instant challenge for this month is 'How close can you go?' and the months challenge is 'Horizons'. Perhaps you are inspired by these topics and would like to join us?

Art in Action

This month some of our group have enjoyed an inhouse tutorial on Acrylic painting. Others have concentrated on still life in watercolour. In April we plan to meet up to visit the "Paradise Found: New visions of the Blackdown Hills" exhibition at the Thelma Hulbert Gallery in Honiton. More about that next time. All new members will be welcome so please join us.


The Gardening Group had two visits in April. Rosalie writes - On 12 March 19 members made their way to the garden of the Bishop's Palace in Exeter, which was open in aid of the Devon Historic Churches Trust. The garden covers approx 3 acres, part of which was closed due to redevelopment. The garden is bounded by the old Roman bank and city wall to the east and the Cathedral to the west. An oasis of calm in the centre of the city. The garden was full of spring flowers and shrubs coming into bud, There were daffodils, snowdrops, hellebore of varying colours, iris reticulata, muscari, crocuses - the very large white ones were very much admired. One plant that caught our attention was Scilla Siberica, though identifying it was dependent on which app you used, and ranged from English Bluebell to Alpine Bluebell. Bluebells were in leaf with more daffodils to come. There were modern sculptures - one depicting the Trinity and the other, the seasons of the year.

It was a relief to some that even in such a sheltered garden the frost had knocked back some mature shrubs. A talking point was the gate installed in the Roman wall through which the Bishop, at the time, could leave the city to go outside for some fresh air, as the garden was then used for growing food and keeping farm animals so could be quite smelly. The weather was kind to us during the visit, but as we left the heavens opened.

For the second visit this month, the idea to visit to my garden was so popular I had to do it over two days, or was it the delicious cakes provided by Joy, Sue and Rita. On the Monday it was bright but a bit chilly, whilst the following day although cold we were grateful that it didn't rain. Members saw the daffodils in full bloom, with the added bonus of the magnolia just beginning to flower before any frosts catch it.


Our March walk from Stoke Canon was pleasant and easy going, starting on the dismantled Exe Valley Railway line with a short detour up and around Brampford Speke (spotting an amazing mimosa tree) before rejoining the flood plain along the banks of the River Exe. Sadly the swans Sarah and I saw when recce'ing the walk a week earlier weren't around (but I've included

t he photo anyway). The river was high and the full extent of our circular path blocked at one stage by flooding, causing us to backtrack past Burrow Farm farm, passing a medieval wayside cross as we returned along the Exe Valley Way to Stoke Canon Inn. This is a very friendly community owned pub, well supported by locals as we found, so service wasn't quick but the food good and very reasonably priced.

Learn to Draw – Mid-way Reflections

I am so impressed with the progress being made by everyone on the course. Most had limited drawing skills when we started and now thy are demonstrating and exhibiting very accomplished drawing skills. Each one is beginning to find their own style and identify the subject/s they enjoy drawing.

So far we have covered:-

Understanding motivation and expectations, Observation and consideration,

Shapes / Textures / Shading / Tones /Shadows The Language of Art

Line Drawing, Edges in Art, Focal Points, Rule of Thirds Positive and Negative Space

Drawing techniques and finding what works for you.

Reflections of some course members:-

Jane - I am enjoying the course immensely and have been pleased with my progress so far.

Alicia - My view on the course is very positive. I has no idea that I could draw and I’m really surprised at what I’ve achieved. The course has given me confidence in myself and I’m quite happy spending time drawing, which is very relaxing.

Anonymous - I’m really enjoying doing this course. I’ve wanted to do something like this for years! I’ve learned so much - it’s amazing how quickly you can learn and improve on your drawing and techniques, when you understand some of the basic principles and put them into practice.

I’ve surprised myself! Sue is a brilliant teacher, has guided me and made me feel confident in being able to pursue and greatly improve on my drawing ability.

A major thing, I believe some people thinking about taking the course will be happy to hear, is that there is no pressure to do/complete any workload/homework. You will be doing this course for ‘you’ - so it’s up to you, how much work/effort you put into it. And of course the amount of effort will reflect on how well you will improve your own skills.

Jenny - I am enjoying it very much as the approach of encouraging all attempts is so cheering, and I feel I have already learnt a lot. Although putting it into practice is another matter. What I would like to be able to do is sketch trees, landscapes etc. specially when the spring properly arrives!

Lorna - Halfway through the course now and we are nearly professional! Sue has given us some real challenges over the weeks and has encouraged us with her enthusiasm for our mixed contributions.

As someone who hasn’t drawn since school, the course has been great in that I have picked up a pencil and seen something transferred to a flat piece of paper from just looking at it! It may not have been perfect, but nothing is the first time you do it is it?

Sue has given us all the tools needed to achieve our goals and I thank her for all the preparation for the course. I think as a group we have also learnt from each other and marvelled at the talent which is burgeoning from within.

If you are interested in joining the next Learn to Draw course please email either Sue or Barbie

Sue email: shlawrieu3a Barbie email:

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