If you’ve ever looked at a short course offering from the CAE or RMIT and been put off by the price, you’re not the only one. Enter Laneway Learning. From an observation that evening classes are often too expensive, too long and too formal, Laneway Learning was founded in 2012 to offer an alternative to traditional short course offerings.
Since running its first class 18 months ago, Laneway Learning has delivered 300 classes to over 6000 students. With classes priced at $12 and subjects ranging from bookbinding to urban beekeeping to ‘Improv Comedy for Beginners’ – not to mention that sessions are held in bars and cafes over a couple of beers or coffees – it’s not hard to see why the uptake has been strong.
Co-founder Mark Gregory talks about this likeable idea further, including their recent expansion to Sydney and what has been their weirdest and most popular classes to date.
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How do you describe Laneway Learning to someone not familiar with it?
Laneway Learning is a project that focuses on community. We run classes in anything and everything, from wine tasting to origami to the science of roller coasters and our classes are probably unlike anything you would have been to before; they are cheap, informal and most of all fun! The teachers are passionate members of the community who are just excited to share their knowledge with whoever wants to know.
What planted the seed for it and made you realise it was worth pursuing?
We were inspired by the Brooklyn Brainery in New York and saw an opportunity for something similar to work right here in the laneways of Melbourne. We are slightly different in a few ways though, one being that instead of having our own space we take advantage of unused spaces in cafes and bars on weekday evenings. We first started running classes down at The Little Mule cafe back in March 2012 and have been growing organically ever since.
I suppose when we first started we didn’t really know that it was going to work, we were just excited about learning something new in an interactive setting. We have been overwhelmed with the response so far and we are looking forward to pushing forward with more classes and new adventures.
What was involved in seeing the project from concept to completion?
Well, I wouldn’t say that we are complete yet – you know, we never stop learning either. We have been so lucky at most steps of the way: finding a great first venue in The Little Mule; having some really early exposure in the local media and finding people that are willing to advocate us to all their friends and family. Of course there is the website and the administration but without the people we would not be doing what we are doing right now.
The classes are super cheap – $12 – does this generate sufficient revenue for teacher and Laneway Learning?
We’re not in it for the money but $12 covers a token of thanks to the teacher, the venue rent and allows us to do everything else in preparation for the classes: buy generic materials, more expensive acquisitions (like a projector and printer) and we even employ someone part time to cover some of the administration.
What’s the weirdest class held to date?
I think the weirdest class to date has to be Zombie Movies – and it was a fantastic class! Our teacher, Halo Jones, got us thinking about all the possible escape routes in the event of a zombie apocalypse and even played out some of the most iconic scenes from zombie movies with a set of finger puppets. Amazing.
And the most popular?
We have a couple of classes that we can’t help but rerun again and again. Our “Wine: A One Night Palate Trainer” class has sold out numerous times, and we can understand why. The teacher for the class, Clare Burder of The Humble Tumbler, explains to us all the basics of finding a great wine without all the fancy lingo. We have also ran several braiding classes by the amazing Theresa Winters, who has had to start her own facebook page to keep up with the demands of being a braiding expert. Who would have thought it?
You’ve recently expanded to Sydney…?
That’s right! We have been running up in Sydney for a couple of months now and our friend Rick Benger has been working hard to get things off the ground. We have run 16 classes so far but have more up on the website ready to go. So, if you have any Sydneysider friends that you think would like to go to a class make sure you get them to check out the website and sign up to the mailing list for all the latest classes.
We like to take every step as it comes. We didn’t start Laneway Learning to take over the world so I think for now we will continue to do what we enjoy and love most, which is sitting around on a weekday evening, in a cafe, with a coffee, learning about something new. A major reason for Laneway Learning being so successful is due to Melburnians’ desire for the unknown and want to learn something new. We would also be nowhere without all of our wonderful teachers; passionate, knowledgeable and the real heroes of our community.
Classes held continually in Melbourne and Sydney
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By Matt Hurst