Our fab friends from the Laneway Learning team have gone from strength to strength since they started back in March 2012. Originally the brainchild of Tom Ding, Laneway Learning offers cheap, informal classes in everything from The Science of Rollercoasters to the Physiology of Sex. Oh and crafty types can get their fix too with a great selection of hands-on workshops in Crochet, Bookbinding & Book Art as well as Terrariums to name a few.
PaperLou caught up with one of the original Co-founders, Kim Hay, over a soy chai to chat about how they made learning fun and to hear the story of how they took a simple idea and created the wonderful Laneway Learning community…
PaperLou: So how did it all begin?
Kim: Tom came up with the idea after living in New York and discovering the Brooklyn Brainary who had their own space and offered easily accessible and quirky kind of classes. So when he arrived in Melbourne he realised there wasn’t really anything like that here and thought it would work well. We both work full-time and sometimes you can get stuck in your work routine and it can be hard to find opportunities to learn outside of your work environment unless you decide to pay some decent money for a 6 week course and in the end not even know if you are going to like it or be able to commit to it each week!
“If you’re not constantly learning or doing something new you can feel quite stuck”
I also think these days, especially Gen Yers, like myself, are a bit more flexible with our career choices and we can try new things and switch to a new direction if we want. I think it’s always important to find new passions and hopefully Laneway Learning is an avenue for people to go out and do that. We thought there could be others who might want to come and learn something new in an inexpensive and relaxed environment and we wanted to create something that was far removed from work and show that learning can be fun.
PL: So how did you go from an idea to making it all happen with a space and teachers?
K: It all just kind of happened really. Tom talked to me about it and I thought it was a cool idea but didn’t really know how it would all come together. Tom caught up with a friend of his, Mark, and talked to him about it and he was keen to get involved. So then Lucie (Mark’s girlfriend) and I were on board and we were kinda like “Ok we better help out!”
So then there were 4 –Tom, Kim, Mark & Lucie – and still it wasn’t reality because we didn’t have anywhere to run the classes. Tom had a chat with a work friend who co-owned a cafe in the city called The Little Mule and he liked the idea and kindly offered the cafe as somewhere to run some classes.
We now had the idea and a space to really begin. Tom took it on as a side project and started working on the logo and the website and then we jumped in and started by teaching a few classes each and asking our friends to teach as well. We began putting it ‘out there’ by telling our friends and family as well as launching the website and our Facebook page.
Laneway Learning was officially born March 2012. I remember at our first class we had someone attend that none of us knew and we were like “Wow how did he find out about us?”. The great thing is he’s been coming ever since and has been such a loyal customer! It was really encouraging that someone we didn’t know had come along and has since continued to get involved.
After a couple of months of successful classes we decided to take a break and really put a big focus on it all. In May last year we had a big push and did a press release and we were lucky to have The Age pick us up which really got the ball rolling. From there Time Out, Three Thousand and Broadsheet took notice and we’ve had really good publicity ever since which has really helped us take off.
PL: Do you guys just pinch yourselves and think WOW – look at all this just over 12 months on? I mean you’re now at over 3000 Facebook fans! How do you keep the variety and momentum going?
K: Yeah it’s all just kind of evolved and I think it’s because the concept really appeals to people – it’s learning and as well as entertainment.
Any given week there is a huge variety of classes and topics range from The Science of Rollercoasters to The Physiology of Sex to 3D Paper Art & Sculpture – a real mix of hands-on craft based classes as well as interesting and intellectual talks. We try and keep it as quirky and as varied as possible. It helps that there are a few of us in the team because our backgrounds and personal interests are all different – from science to chemistry to maths and crafty stuff too – each of us brings a different perspective.
These days though we don’t really dictate the variety of classes much because a lot comes from teachers who are interested in teaching for Laneway Learning. We meet with them and they pitch their idea to us and, if we think it fits with the style we have, we invite them to run a class. We’ve always tried to offer stuff you wouldn’t even think to have a class in or you wouldn’t be able to really find anywhere else. Most of our teachers don’t come from a teaching background and they’re just people who have a passion and want to share it.
“We’re letting everybody know that anyone can be a teacher and if you’ve got a skill don’t be afraid to share and pass it on.”
PL: So tell us a bit about the Sunday Spectacular you have coming up…
K: Yes! We are so excited to be holding the Laneway Learning Sunday Spectacular on 16th June from 11am – 5pm. A few of the venues in the laneway are participating such as The Little Mule, Captains of Industry, and Foundation for Young Australians (FYA). The idea is to have some traditionally run classes at FYA but keep it more relaxed with drop in learning centres and stalls at The Little Mule and Captains of Industry where stations in craft, discussion and taste will be set up.
Both Little Mule and Captains will be serving food & drink all day and all the money raised from the day will go to the FYA charity. They have a scholarship program called Change it Up which is designed to inspire kids in remote communities of Australia. The program gives these kids a chance to pitch ideas on how they think they could improve their community and they receive a $1000 scholarship to go towards their idea if they are successful. It’s a really great cause!
PL: So how should people get involved in Laneway Learning’s Sunday Spectacular?
K: To get involved and book for a class people can go to our website and register for one of the traditional classes but otherwise just turn up and take part in any of our drop in stalls at any time between 11-5pm on Sunday 16th June! Come down and take part in the Sunday Spectacular and be sure to check out upcoming classes as well!