Frequently asked questions

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What is Beacon?

Beacon is a membership management system designed solely for
U3As and supported by a team of volunteer U3A members called the Beacon Team


Why use Beacon?

Beacon currently helps over 350 U3As across the UK to manage
their members, groups, venues and finances and more U3As are implementing it
all the time as word spreads about its benefits

Almost half of all U3A members are managed on the Beacon

Beacon benefits members by enabling them to join and renew
online, pay by card, manage their details and group memberships and more

Using Beacon helps U3As manage risks and stay compliant with

Why is Beacon being upgraded?

Upgrading the system will enable us to manage risks to the
whole movement relating to compliance, technology, finance and reputation

We will take advantage of the opportunity to improve the
functionality of the system for the users in the most cost-effective way

We are working with independent professional specialists

Upgrading Beacon enables us (the Trust) to focus on our core
activity (learning) rather than on software development

How is Beacon being upgraded?

The Third Age Trust is partnering with a specialist
membership management system provider, APT Solutions, which has a wide range of
clients that are similar in size and structure to the U3A movement

APT will work with the Trust to upgrade Beacon using their technology

We are now in a period of consultation and discovery, the
outcome of which will be a document defining where we are now and where we are

Once this has been agreed we will begin the development

A pilot phase will take place from March of next year which
will be followed by the phased rollout to all existing Beacon users

How will it affect my U3A as we use Beacon?

All Beacon users will be brought onto the upgraded system
over the course of 2020 and we will seek to work with U3As to make sure this
happens at a convenient time of year for them

This will take a phased approach with U3As being upgraded in
batches, with the support of a member of the volunteer Beacon Team

Users will have the opportunity to learn about the upgraded
system before their switch with  documents,
user guides and video tutorials

There will also be a range of events and online seminars
throughout the project to keep U3As abreast of progress and enable access to
the project team

How will it affect my U3A as we do not currently use Beacon?

The project won’t impact U3As not yet using Beacon; however
it is very much recommended that U3As do consider implementing it

Once the upgrade is complete U3As wishing to implement
Beacon will continue to be supported to do so by the volunteer Beacon Team

It is anticipated that there will be a period of time in
2020 when U3As will not be able to begin the process of implementing Beacon as
supporters focus on the rollout of the upgrade



How will it affect my U3A as we are in the process of implementing Beacon?

Nothing will change for now, and you will be kept up to date
as the project progresses

U3As starting to implement Beacon from now on will be advised
to get their data onto Beacon but to consider waiting until the upgrade is
available before rolling out features such as online renewals

The volunteer Beacon Team will continue to provide support
to all U3As implementing Beacon



Should our U3A start implementing Beacon now or wait?

Start now

The volunteer Beacon Team will support you throughout the
process, including taking you through a range of steps to ensure your data are
up-to-date, accurate and complete

You do not need to take full advantage of all of the
features of Beacon at this stage but having your data on the system sooner
rather than later will mean you do not need to wait to access the upgraded
system next year


What support will be available to us during the upgrade?

U3As will have a named Beacon Team supporter to guide them
in the period leading up to their upgrade and for a time afterwards

We will provide a range of documentation and training
materials in advance

U3As will have the chance to attend events and workshops to
prepare for the upgrade

The Beacon helpdesk, staffed by the volunteer Beacon Team, will
continue to provide support to users


Will the upgraded Beacon include a website?


The specification for the upgraded Beacon system includes a
template-based public website and members’ area for each user U3A which can be
used alongside a U3A’s existing website, as the current Beacon system works, or
on its own as a replacement for an existing website


Will the per-member-per-year cost increase?


The charge will stay at £1 per member per year for 2020/21
and will continue to be reviewed on an annual basis

The charge is intended only to cover the cost of providing
the service and not to generate revenue


What about networks and regions?

Networks and regions are a key part of the U3A movement and
the upgrade to Beacon will address their particular needs as well as the needs
of U3As


What about new U3As?

New U3As are advised about Beacon during the start up
process and are recommended to use Beacon from Day 1


Where can we find out more?

The Beacon website ( is the central
point for updates and information about the upgrade project

Updates will be posted on a regular basis and included in
Beacon News (which U3A members can sign up to receive by email on the Beacon


How can we get involved?

U3As and U3A members will be involved throughout the project
in a range of ways, including focus groups, workshops, interviews, user
acceptance testing, piloting and as members of the Beacon Team

Members wishing to register their interest in being involved
are encouraged to get in touch via the Beacon website

You do not need to be a ‘technical person’ to be involved in
the project – input is needed from a range of users with different levels of