Group organiser Margaret Thorpe about arranging visits for her U3A group after spending her career in travel. 

How did you get into organising for groups?

I worked for a travel agency when I left school and then I started teaching leisure and tourism in the late 1980s. I took groups of students on trips that I organised myself which was good fun and a great experience. Then I joined my local U3A group more than ten years ago and began organising the holidays about six years ago.

GTO Margaret Thorpe and her partner

Margaret and partner David.

Margaret’s group at a glance…

Group name: Knole U3A
No. of members: 350
Time organising: Six years plus
Based: Sevenoaks, Kent

What do you enjoy about travelling?

Working in the industry certainly grabbed me and ever since, I have had a sense of adventure and have been interested in exploring new places. When I retired, I spent three months travelling around New Zealand which was wonderful. Although as we get older, we are more limited in what we can do, we can still have that sense of adventure.

Members of the Knole U3A group enjoy a trip to Merthyr Tydfil, Wales

Enjoying a visit to Merthyr Tydfil in Wales. 

And what do you love about being a GTO?

I get some wonderful feedback from the members which makes all the hard work worthwhile. It does take up a lot of time organising trips with all of the preparation such as handling booking forms, deposits, contact information etc, but it is great when the group members enjoy the trips. The holidays sell out within a month so that’s a very good indicator that I am doing something right!

What type of trips do you do now?

I arrange several day trips, visits to London for our study group, as well as London walks for the walking group and then I organise an annual holiday in the UK. For the holidays, I liaise with the tour operator that I use for their knowledge of the area and I also research it to find out what is going to make the trip more interesting for our group. An example was our holiday to Cardiff and South Wales. I added a trip on the Brecon Beacons Railway to the itinerary to make it more interesting.

The holidays sell out within a month so that’s a very good indicator that I am doing something right!

Tell us more about your London visits

I organise them for one of our London study groups and try to find more unusual places. For example, we have been to the Old Bailey, the Foreign Office and Ham House in Richmond. I also arrange a trip for our London walking group each month. The last one we did covered Farringdon and Clerkenwell and we also visited Charter House. The priority is the walk and as a result, you see parts of London that you would never have thought about.

Members of Knole U3A at the Priory Church in Clerkenwell

The London Walks Group at the Church of the Order of St John in Clerkenwell.

How do you come up with new ideas all of the time?

It can be a challenge because I always want to take the group to places they haven’t been before. For us, the key consideration is location, it is generally somewhere that’s a reasonable distance from the south east. For example, we have a holiday to Northamptonshire coming up. It seemed different and I’m looking forward to what we have on the itinerary. It includes Upton House, Rockingham Castle and Canons Ashby so should be very interesting.

I also pick up ideas from your magazine. I planned a trip to Strawberry Hill House after seeing it featured and we really enjoyed it.

What are some of your favourite visits you have arranged recently?

Our Lincoln holiday was a really good one. We also had a great trip to Cardiff; we went to the Government buildings and Cardiff Bay, it was wonderful.

Although as we get older, we are more limited in what we can do, we can still have that sense of adventure.

How much research does your role require?

I have to do a lot of research and preparation for the walks in particular. Thankfully, there are a lot of books about London walks so I use those and also pick up suggestions online. With the other London trips, we have to go and do a recce in advance to make sure that it’s going to be suitable for the group.

How far in advance do you organise visits?

For the holidays, it’s 12 months in advance.

For the London study group, it’s several months out, and there are a few of us who organise them, so we have different months allocated to us. The next one I’m doing is September and we’re going to explore the regeneration of King’s Cross which should be interesting.

The London walks always take place on the same day each month and I send out the final details about a week beforehand.

Where is left on your bucket list?

I planned to go to the Rocky Mountains in Canada in 1972 but then I fell pregnant with my son so that is still on the list. I love Switzerland too and would really like to get back to the mountains there.

Would you like to tell us about your work as a group organiser? Get in touch by emailing