Just over a year ago, Laneway Learning burst into life at Little Mule in Melbourne’s Somerset Place. The first classes, ‘Cryptic Crosswords for Beginners’ and ‘Chemistry of Life’ were taught by co-owners Mark Gregory and Tom Ding, and were largely attended by friends and family.
Today, Laneway Leaning is a runaway success, offering classes in anything and everything – ‘Beginner’s Ukulele’ anyone? The concept was inspired by a similar project in Brooklyn, New York, where classes were taught by members of the local community. The Melbourne version added a local twist, with the classes taking place in laneway cafes and bars.
We spoke to co-owner Mark Gregory to find out more.
The class topics are very broad – what’s your criteria for inclusion?
We run classes in anything and everything, but the important things for us are that we have a large variety of subjects and that our classes are informal, interactive and FUN.
Are the classes really held in laneways?
The Little Mule in Somerset Place is the perfect space for us: central location but hidden away, cosy and not too large. When people walk in there at 6.15pm on a Tuesday it feels so different from work, they can’t help but relax.
We also operate in a little bar called Ferdydurke in Tattersalls Lane, and in July we started running classes at Shebeen, a non-for-profit bar on Manchester Lane. They all offer a similar laid back atmosphere, which is the perfect environment for informal learning.
What are some of the strangest classes you have run?
It’s hard to choose because they are all so different. We had Russel Howcroft from the Gruen Transfer teaching a yo-yo class. We had a fantastic wine-tasting teacher who ran a ‘One Night Palate Trainer’ class with us several times. She has such an original, unpretentious way of teaching.
I also love it when we get scientists to talk about their research and the latest happenings in their fields. Recently we had someone from the CSIRO teach about solar power, and a psychiatrist talking about neuroplasticity.
How do you find your teachers?
Most teachers approach us with their ideas – sometimes they have been to a class or heard about us through word of mouth and they just want to be involved. We are lucky in that we get a handful of people approach us each week, but we also put calls out via Facebook if someone requests a particular subject.
Which classes are most popular?
We are lucky that Melburnians have such a thirst for knowledge and therefore most classes we offer, no matter how strange, strike a chord with someone. It is becoming harder to predict which class will sell like hot cakes and which wont, but in general we have found that anything crafty or hands-on attracts the most people.
Laneway Learning will be offering some special classes as part of the upcoming Melbourne Knowledge Week (28 Oct to 3 Nov). You can learn about solar energy, find out how to have better ideas or try your hand at lightpainting (pictured), kitchen cosmology or 3D printing.