A new skill for the new year

PUBLISHED: 15:56 20 December 2010 | UPDATED: 15:40 20 February 2013



Amy Rainbow takes a look at courses on offer from Creative Breaks, from blacksmithing to storytelling, making rings to making wings. Photographs by Amy Rainbow

Amy Rainbow takes a look at courses on offer from Creative Breaks, from blacksmithing to storytelling, making rings to making wings. Photographs by Amy Rainbow.

The light and spacious Brilley village hall is my first destination, tucked away behind the old village primary school and only a short drive from Hay-on-Wye. Impressed by a leaflet produced by the locally-based association Creative Breaks, I have decided to try out a couple of courses and learn some new skills along the way. In Brilley I meet Nicola Hopwood, who runs workshops in the art of stained glass. She is checking the kiln where students' painted glass is being fired.

"I enjoy the balance of working on commissions and teaching," says Nicola, whose windows adorn parish churches, schools, hospitals and private homes. "I like to inspire others and share my enthusiasm." Judging by the standard of her pupils' work, her approach evidently achieves results. Small group sizes and Nicola's impressive knowledge and skills, acquired during 22 years of working in this medium, ensure that everyone on her courses completes a remarkable piece to take home.

The whole process of creating a stained glass panel is studied and practised, from design to framing and installation. There is an air of relaxed industry as students confidently cut their chosen colours from hand-made Polish glass. Next comes the fluxing, soldering and cementing, all accompanied by soft acoustic guitar music and much-appreciated cups of tea.

For some this is their first Creative Break. A few have tried their hand at a variety of the courses on offer, which range from traditional and contemporary arts and crafts, such as blacksmithing and airbrushing, to transformational dreamwork and storytelling.

I am urged to attend a dyeing, spinning and weaving workshop run by Jane Meredith, who shows students how plants such as marigolds and woad from her riverside garden can be used to produce vibrant natural dyes. An occasional kingfisher adds its own flashes of colour to the proceedings as it darts along the Wye.

Creative Breaks was set up in 2000 by established artists and craftspeople, many of whom are also qualified teachers and members of their local Guild of Cratftsmen. The group runs courses in Herefordshire and neighbouring counties: its aim is to enable people to explore their creativity in tranquil and inspiring surroundings.

Lugwardine Court is the setting for Amy Twigger Holroyd's knitting courses, where guests are treated to home-made organic lunches, and in fine weather are able to refine their stitching in the gardens of this former convent. A studio near Llanthony Abbey in the Brecon Beacons is home to Llanthony Art, which runs residential and day courses in digital photography and lino-cut printmaking as well as painting with watercolours, oils and acrylics.

Basketmaking is a popular choice, with regular workshops held at Canon Frome Court, a Georgian manor house set in 40 acres of countryside near Ledbury. Over a weekend, students make at least one basket from un-stripped willow, based on traditional Celtic or English regional designs and using a variety of weaves. "It's something that so many people say they've always wanted a go at," says tutor, Jenny Pearce. "For some of them these breaks are a one-off, but many attend regularly, having discovered a new interest."

Fees vary depending on the duration of a course and the level of skills taught. A one and a half hour workshop in the school holidays with Jon Williams of Eastnor Pottery costs just £14 per child. One day courses such as painting and drawing with Filbert Splosh cost around 55, which covers lunch and some materials, and weekend prices start at 90. For those wishing to be completely immersed in their craft, nine days of chairmaking with Gudrun Leitz in her woodland workshop or six days of bookbinding tuition with Christopher Rowlatt at the Presteigne Bindery could make a fascinating holiday.

Most course providers are incredibly flexible and can cater for interest groups, families, children's parties, hen parties and corporate groups, as well as giving personal tuition if required. Ian Buckley of Bringsty Arts Studio even offers the opportunity for couples to make their own wedding rings in a day.

For a break with a difference there is the enchantingly titled "Free Your Fairy". The early morning sun is shining as I wend my way towards Fairylove HQ, a grand 15th-century house in Stoke Prior, where hosts Jason and Shelley Fairy gently encourage visitors to let go of their fears and explore their own magical potential. Dressing up is at the heart of a Fairylove experience, as it nurtures a person's sense of fun and playfulness. The weekend's main craft activity is wing-making, and I am struck by the students' absorbed contentment as they sprinkle glitter, dab jewels and smooth feathers onto their unique creations.

A lesson from yoga teacher Catherine, leads us up to lunch time, where chef Molly presents us with a vegetarian feast largely consisting of home-grown produce. Later in the day we gather in the oak-panelled sitting room for a singing session with Molly's mum, Kate, whose enthusiasm soon has us singing uplifting rounds and harmonising magnificently.

Creative Breaks courses are genuinely inspiring, and with around 300 workshops, courses and holidays to choose from, there is something to suit everyone, from the complete novice to those wanting to perfect their skills. So whether you are considering a relaxing break, a new hobby or even a change in direction, Creative Breaks may well provide what you are looking for. And with the spirit of vitality and optimism that comes with a New Year, what better time to try something different?

Creative Breaks courses run throughout the year.


07813 871019

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