IN recent months, as the situation with Covid-19 has improved, one of the most reassuring signs of the resumption of normal life has been the activities of the many local clubs and societies that lie at the heart of our communities.

The club report pages of this newspaper are once more full of detailed accounts of these organisations’ activities, taking place in person, and providing those invaluable opportunities to be sociable in a way that virtual get-togethers – useful as they were during the pandemic – could not match.

Last Friday, during a busy day in the Leyburn and Bedale area I had the opportunity to visit one of those groups – Leyburn U3A.

U3A stands for University of the Third Age – a collection of groups that run member-led learning for those no longer in full-time work.

Leyburn U3A is one of more than 1,000 such groups across the UK and it provides lots of opportunities to get involved with learning in our area.

It is not a university in the traditional sense. Members don’t study for qualifications. They just enjoy taking part and meeting new people.

The range of activities members get involved with at Leyburn is quite something – from playing the ukulele to bell ringing, current affairs, studying ancient Greece and art appreciation. There are also U3A groups at Northallerton, Bedale and Stokesley with equally diverse programmes of activities.

At the meeting I attended at Leyburn Arts and Community Centre, more than 40 members were present for the AGM and I was pleased to briefly speak about my work as their MP, as Chancellor and to field a wide range of questions about my work.

I made a particular point about what I see as a great strength of our parliamentary system – the importance of the constituency – the geographical area every MP represents – regardless of what other job they might do in Westminster.

My predecessor William Hague used to tell me how, when he was Foreign Secretary, world leaders he encountered on overseas visits were often bemused because he had to return to the UK to conduct a surgery with his constituents.

I think it is really important that I am always accountable to you, as I was when I am answering questions at Leyburn U3A.

This week I was delighted to receive an email from Matthew Kelly, head teacher at Hutton Rudby Primary School, about something he and some school colleagues achieved at the weekend.

Many of you will have heard about the Three Peaks Challenge, the 24-mile trek in the Yorkshire Dales which involves climbing Pen-y-ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside – 7,000 ft of ascent – in under 12 hours.

Matthew and nine school staff colleagues did it on Saturday and their magnificent efforts were preceded by a big Ukrainian fundraising day at the school.

Together they have raised more than £6,500 for Save the Children’s work in Ukraine. That’s an amazing achievement. Donations can still be made via the Team HRPS fundraising page at