Third age clubs (clubs de 3e âge) are multi-activity clubs found all over France with the aim of bringing retired people together and preventing isolation.
The clubs are extremely popular as a way of building social networks and getting involved in community activities.
Many older people who move to France find them to be a useful way to integrate into life in the country, helping them meet their neighbours and improve their language skills.
We spoke to British people who have become integral members of their local third age clubs to find out about their experiences.
Their answers were overwhelmingly positive, saying that their French has improved, they have made new friends, gone on exciting trips and learned new skills.
Teresa and Mike Wilcox
Teresa and Mike Wilcox, both in their 70s, have lived as permanent residents in Landes in the southwest of France for around six years, although they have had the house there for over 30.
Teresa is originally from Ireland and Mike is from England. He previously worked as an engineer and the couple have moved all over the world for his work. They joined several third age groups in their local area not long after making the permanent switch to France.
“We have been involved in three or four local clubs for several years.
“They all have activities on different days, so you can pick and mix, if you like.
“We pay between €10 and €17 per year, depending on the club. It also covers the insurance for when we go on trips.
“We go to different places with each club so you get the chance to learn new things as there are people there who can explain the history, or the different connections. It makes it really interesting.
“We’ve been over the border to Spain often. We’ve been down as far as Granada for a one-week trip. We’ve also been to the north of Spain, and in France we’ve been to Carcassonne.
“Generally, the maximum length of a trip would be about five days, but then there are also day trips.
“Before Christmas there are things like going Christmas shopping together, meetups for drinks or festivities.
“We go down every week to club activities.
“We go, for example, to gym classes, Mike goes to choir, then there is sophrology (a form of relaxed yoga), pétanque, walks, etc. In the afternoon there are games and cards, but we don’t go to those often, although I know other English-speakers who do.
“The clubs also put on training days.
“For example, they had a health and safety training day where they showed us how to practise resuscitation, and what numbers we need to ring in case of different emergencies.
“That was nice and free. Most of these things are free.
“There were also days about driving, and government renovation grants.
“If we go to those sorts of things, they usually put on some coffee or snacks. Then we usually go to one of the local restaurants for lunch. It adds a social aspect.
“There are up to about 200 members in each club. But different people do different things, so it is only for the annual general meeting where the majority of people turn up, and there is always a meal then.
“The clubs are organised through local authorities.
“I have never seen anything in England that compares to it. The French are far more social than the English are. By origin I’m Irish, and there is more of that family-orientation, knowing your neighbours, knowing who is in the village, like there is in the west of Ireland. I find that similar aspect in France.
“It’s amazing what the club will do to help out. There are an awful lot of things that go on at these third age clubs. People volunteer at events and give up their free time. They are quite happy to be able to help out. That’s what makes me think how lucky we are to be in France.
“We heard about the clubs through local newsletters and from word of mouth.
“The first time I went along I really liked it. I think some English-speakers find it a bit off-putting if their language skills are not very good but in lots of ways, it does improve your French.
“You don’t need to be fluent in French to join these clubs, but it’s easier the better your French is. But if you live in the countryside and you have to deal with all the bureaucracy, you have to be able to speak some French.”
Phillippa Cottrill, 68, lives in Aveyron in the south of France. She used to work as a medical researcher before moving to France around seven years ago.
“I'm a member of my local club. I'm even on the committee and no, I don't speak fluent French but they explain the things I query.
“I joined to help 'meet the locals', as I have no interest in joining the expat community.
“I regularly do the weekly walk with them and they invited me onto the committee.
“Being on the committee I meet more people as I have a roster of those to whom I am responsible for delivering leaflets about the activities of the club.
“In terms of activities, we have meals provided by caterers (over 100 people at a time) with plays or musicians or other entertainers - these I don't understand at all, neither do I have the French sense of humour.
“Twice per year we have organised outings by coach with a big meal at lunchtime and guided visits to landmarks morning and evening. These can be very interesting.
“Recently they have started doing six-day coach trips, but I find these tend to be too much time in the coach for my liking.
“The club has biweekly Belote games, which is very popular, a Scrabble club (which I lead as I'm on the committee), and a knitting club, who sell their produce for the telethon.
“I think the club is very much there to provide social venues for the locals as this is a very rural area and although the locals all know each other, they don't necessarily get together without a cause.
“My experience of participating in the club has been really good. It has made me speak to locals. I was worried for a long time about my French, especially my accent, but delivering leaflets has helped me get over that. It encourages me to talk, as the people I deliver to are often alone and want to talk too. Overall, it’s been really useful.
“My husband, who is a big naturalist, recently wrote an article about moths for our club’s newsletter.”
Hazel Turner, 74, is a retired school teacher and NHS manager from England who moved to France with her husband in 2005. They have been involved with their local third age club in Aude for a long time, but in 2015 Hazel was elected vice president of the club. Then, in 2018, she was elected as president.
“Our third age club in Cailhau was founded in 1977 but has not always been in operation since that date. I moved to France in 2005 but was "too young" at the time to participate in third age activities. I was elected to the local council (conseil municipal) from 2008 until 2020.
“I became more involved in the third age club from about 2015, becoming vice president of the club.
“The British have always been welcome in the village and participate in activities. Language can be a barrier - I certainly struggle in conseil meetings - but we have a good team and work well together.
“Around one third of the members of our club are English speakers, although that number is going down with more people moving back to the UK after Brexit. But there has always been a good ambiance between the locals and the British.
“For example, before Covid we used to do a curry evening where the British would cook for the locals, that was really popular. Then we also had a “bring and share” evening, which included singing carols in English and French.
“The locals have no problem with me being the president. They see me as someone who is neutral. Since I took over, I have introduced the rule that only one person speaks at a time at meetings, because otherwise I get a bit lost with the language.
“I think the third age clubs are really important.”
What to do if you would like to join a third age club?
The first place to inquire is your mairie as they often have contact details.