From lace-making to mushroom-foraging, Arca has the course for you

Have you always wanted to spin your own wool or carve yourself a country-style stool, immerse yourself in Chopin's works, or master that digital camera you got for Christmas? If so, then there may well be somewhere nearby offering a course that fits the bill.

The Adult Residential Colleges Association (Arca, www.arca.uk.net) is a network of around 20 independent colleges spread around the UK, all providing short courses aimed at those long out of school uniform. Some colleges are run by local authorities and others by charitable organisations. But what they have in common is a devotion to the pursuit of learning as a pleasurable end in itself, rather than as a means to achieving a qualification.

"We used to do recognised qualifications, but now we focus on hobby-based education, purely for the joy of it," says Sarah Wilcock, business development manager at Alston Hall, a pretty Victorian country house overlooking the Ribble Valley in Lancashire.

Alston runs courses ranging in length from half a day to a week, with subject matter that leans heavily towards hands-on country crafts, such as lace-making and silversmithing, but with a good mix of music, dance and creative writing as well. Course fees range from around £20 for half a day to £200 for the longer, residential courses.

Janet Fearn, 54, typical of many regular Alston students, attends a monthly, day-long wool-spinning course. "I work full time in accounting in the NHS, and coming to Alston takes me well away from my normal daily stress," she says. "The beauty lies in the location and surroundings. As well as the spinning class, I've done courses on mushroom-foraging, edible wild food and neurolinguistic programming. And in August, I'm booked on a weekend course in past life regression: discovering who you were in a former life."

Every year, more than 150,000 people attend courses at Arca's colleges, almost all of which are housed in buildings of architectural interest, set in locations worth visiting in their own right. Knuston Hall in Northamptonshire, which can trace its origins back to the Domesday Book, offers courses ranging from Japanese embroidery to jazz accordion, via the wines of Bordeaux. Missenden Abbey, in the Chilterns, dating back to the 12th century, has an eclectic mix of short courses includes Egyptian belly dancing, floristry and conveyancing.

"Like all Arca member colleges, our ethos is to provide high-quality learning in a wonderful setting," says Rosa Maria Welsh, Missenden's curriculum manager.

The college is currently gearing up for its four-week summer school, which straddles July and August, and is expected to attract 700 students. New this year is a week devoted to Italian landscape and culture, taking in film, opera, geology and Shakespearean works set in Italy. "For the majority, the summer school is a special kind of holiday," says Welsh.

While most Arca courses are no more than a few days, some colleges offer full-time, residential programmes lasting up to an academic year, among them West Dean College, near Chichester in West Sussex. Here, alongside a wide mix of short courses, students can undertake something more substantial, perhaps even leading to a Masters degree validated by the University of Sussex.

David Higgon, 44, is currently following a full-time, residential course on clockmaking and conservation, leading to a professional diploma supported by several august organisations, including the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers and the Antiquarian Horological Society. He completed an introductory diploma in the same field last year.

"Having spent 15 years in accountancy, it wasn't doing it for me any more," he says. "So I paid off the mortgage and decided to do something I enjoyed, while still having time in my life to make a career of it."

This year, as part of the course, Higgon is making two new clocks of his own, one of which is based on Jupiter's moons, and has 29 different gears. At the end of the year, these clocks will be sold by the college, to raise money for student bursaries.

Higgon, who remembers making a clock with his first Meccano kit as a boy, has clearly found an ideal activity for his time of life. "When I was working as an accountant, I didn't spend my holidays lying on a beach, but learning engraving or something to do with precious stones," he remembers. "So the last 18 months here at West Dean have been the biggest holiday of my life."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Tradewind Recruitment: Experienced Cover Supervisor

£12000 - £14400 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: Experienced Cover Supervisor...

Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

Recruitment Genius: Nursery Practitioner - Faringdon

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: We currently have an opportunity for you to jo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Developer - Cirencester - £29,000

£25000 - £29000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have be...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project