From chocolate tasting to learning how to cook with flowers, WI groups will love the variety on offer from the UK’s top course providers and craft centres

Harts Barn Cookery School offers a range of courses covering everything from gluten-free baking to high vegetable diets

Harts Barn Cookery School offers a range of courses covering everything from gluten-free baking to high vegetable diets

Hands on activities and learning new crafts always provide a challenge for WI groups, which is why such events are always popular. With no two WI groups the same in terms of their interests, this offers considerable scope for potential course providers.

Food and cookery have considerable appeal especially when it enables participants to learn new techniques. Popular demand led Mahu Choudhry, founder of Ethnic Fusion Catering, to set up a cookery school in Dereham, Norfolk teaching participants how to make delicious Indian dishes, such as Aachari Baringan and Biryani. There is a vegetarian option, as well as a special ‘Breads and snacks of India’ choice, which includes naans, chapattis and parathas.

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Over in Gloucestershire, Harts Barn Cookery School has a comprehensive range of courses covering everything from gluten free baking, low carb High vegetable diets, whole foods cookery to creating French macaroons, cheesecakes and how to cure, smoke and make sausages. One of the more unusual courses focuses on edible flowers, where participants can learn about the best varieties for eating, where to plant them and how to use them as decoration, flavouring and in drinks. A tasting platter and fresh drinks complete with flowers rounds off the session.


Sweet tooth, anyone?

Chocolate is a subject that never fails to attract. The York Cocoa House is a popular venue with groups as they can discover all the secrets of chocolate history along with tasting and making their own treats. Find out how chocolate originally tasted and how much it has changed to suit modern tastes, design your own chocolate bar or truffles. Afterwards, relax with a chocolate taster workshop where chocolate is used in all kinds of unusual ways, such as a Yorkshire blue cheese and chocolate tart, rarebit made with chocolate stout, chocolate and cherry scones or mushroom and cocoa nib pate on cocoa nib rye bread crostini. Chocolate will never seem the same again!

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Further north at Beamish Open Air Museum, learn to make the sweets of yesteryear, including cinder toffee, coconut delights, sweetmeats and Scottish tablet. Held in a 1900s town, this is a very memorable workshop. You can even wear period dress while taking part!


DIY gin!

Adnams Brewery in Southwold has an unusual experience available – you can make your own gin! This can be combined with a tour of the gin distillery, but the main focus is hands-on. Guided by a specialist Gin Maker, participants select their preferred botanical elements and before distilling their own custom made gin to take home. You can even choose your own name for your personal brew. Along the way, you can have a tasting session of a range of Adnams spirits, making your choice of botanicals easier.


Focus on stained glass

Stained glass is one of the glories of medieval churches. At the Stained Glass Museum in Ely there’s a regular programme of hands on workshops that are led by professional artists and craftsmen. Participants can learn how to paint on glass, develop skills in lead and glazing or discover the secrets of making fused glass art. Patience is needed for this craft skill, but the results are spectacular.


Learn a new craft

Who wouldn’t like an exclusive, individual perfume? This is exactly what you can create at The Perfume Studio, where participants can blend ingredients to create a perfume capturing their personal style and tastes.

Find out what scents appeal, what blends with what, and how to make a scent long lasting. The sessions can be held at a range of nationwide venues usually spas and beauty saloons, or mobile consultants can visit your own premises.

If you fancy a hat for special occasions, try making your own under the guidance of Rose Cory, who used to be milliner to the Queen Mother. Courses are held at Shrewsbury House near Eltham Common in London. Rose believes that millinery should be taught as a traditional craft. Students learn how to make all types of hats from straw to felt, turbans to bridal head-dresses as well as accessories such as decorative hatpins, combs and flowers.

Match this with a pretty scarf or shawl made during a Devore silk workshop at Clovelly Silk, Devon. Layering a special paste, baking, washing and dying the silk results in wonderful designs on the velvet silk. Individual or group projects can be undertaken during the session.

Get to grips with pottery

Stoke on Trent is renowned as the centre of the pottery industry within the UK, so it’s an ideal place for pottery workshops. Marvel at the delicate beauty of Jasperware within the Wedgwood Museum, which contains more than 3,000 unique items dating back to 1759 when Josiah Wedgwood founded the company before making your own versions.

The new World of Wedgwood Visitor Centre includes opportunities to take part in hands-on craft activities

The new World of Wedgwood Visitor Centre includes opportunities to take part in hands-on craft activities

The new World of Wedgwood Visitor Centre includes opportunities to take part in hands on craft activities in the Decorating Studio and Master Craft Studio. Visitors can craft items in clay using traditional methods, discover decorative ornamenting with the iconic Jasperware clay, and experiment with transfer illustrating techniques.

Travel back in history at the Gladstone Pottery Museum to learn traditional techniques common a century ago. The museum is the only complete Victorian pottery factory dating back to the days when coal was used to make the finest bone china.

wedgwood_batch1_8Having explored the delights of the ‘Flushed with Pride’ toilet exhibit, the giant bottle kilns and workshop yard, visitors can try their hand at learning how to make exquisite china pottery flowers.

Similar activities can be enjoyed in Ironbridge, Shropshire where groups visiting the Coalport China Museum have a guided tour before learning how to make, decorate and glaze a ceramic pottery flower bowl. A full day workshop it comes complete with lunch. Close by at the Jackfield Tile Museum, self guided tours of the galleries and room settings provide lots of artistic inspiration before learning the art of tubelining to decorate a tile.

Alternatively, relax amid the mountains of Snowdonia where a variety of craft courses including spinning, bookbinding and jewellery making are held at Plas Tan Y Bwlch (Snowdonia National Park Centre). These practical courses are designed to teach basic skills, but more advanced workshops can be organised if required.

In search of more formal learning?

The WI Denman (formerly known as Denman College) is a residential adult education college, based in Marcham Park, Oxfordshire.

Founded in 1948, today it offers a variety of day and residential courses in cookery, craft and lifestyle-related subjects. Visit the website for a full list of courses on offer at www.denmancollege.org.uk or call 01865 391991.