As a firm believer in life-long learning, I wish every town in Britain had its own Idler Academy. Do not be misled by the name, this new type of workshop-schoolroom-bookshop-café is not condoning mindless laziness and sloth, but rather a slower and more philosophical attitude to life, doing things you enjoy, learning new skills and being more self-sufficient and less materialistic. The logo is a snail, just like the Slow Food movement.
Husband and wife founders Tom Hodgkinson and Victoria Hull have created a community meeting place in a corner of Westbourne Park Road that is so cosy, it feels like you have stumbled accidentally into someone’s living room. There are kelim rugs, school chairs, pot plants, trays of cakes and biscuits, old books, wooden tables and floral frock wearing shop assistants that pour you tea while telling you how much happier we all were before consumerism took hold of our society and turned us all into workaholic, shopping obsessed, stressed out capitalists. Cupcakes, Victoria sponge cake, fruit cake, flapjacks and scones are all freshly baked by Blueberry Hill bakery of Kensel Rise.
The Idler Manifesto, printed on cardboard on a bookshelf, is a call to arms, its imperatives rallying for a return to nature and freedom: be creative, dig the earth, make compost, open the village hall, death to the supermarket!
What this new style of academy is calling for is, a return to the subject matter that the state school system has sadly abandoned in favour of more “hard” subjects. Many cookery-gardening-crafting schools have sprung up all over Britain in the last five years to meet the need our society has for learning useful skills. The Ilder Academy has gone one step further, placing ukelele music, Stoic studies, Renaissance music and the mysteries of the Arabian Nights on a curriculum that challenges our modern day notion of education and its importance at the very root of our wellbeing and search for happiness.
This is what the founders believe:
“It’s intriguing to note that in Ancient Greece, the word for ‘leisure’, or scholee, later turned into our word for ‘school’. Education was a privilege of the free élite, hence the term, “liberal education”. Education distinguished the free man from the slave. State education today, though, is really a matter of fitting us out for servility rather than liberty. The Idler’s idea of education is different: we want to liberate by giving people skills both academic and practical. We want to teach English grammar, Latin, calligraphy, gardening and embroidery, so we can concentrate more of our time on beauty and truth rather than simply toiling for wages. We want to rediscover the pleasures both of creativity and the intellect, and help people to become self-reliant, capable and competent. That way lies liberty. Hence our motto, libertas per cultum, meaning “freedom through education”. And that word cultummeans “education” not in the sense of instilling propaganda, but in the sense of “cultivation” or “culture”.”
As well as ancient philosophy and classical music, there are short courses in edible flower growing and eating, needlework, calligraphy, Latin, rhetoric and theology. Tom and Victoria live in Exmoor, where they make their own honey and grow their own vegetables. Tom is a writer for Country Living magazine and a number of national newspapers, as well as author of five books on his specialist subject. At the same as he teaches parents how to bring up children without the fussing and attention that today’s child centred society dictates, he can also show them how to create their own small holding. Animal husbandry is one of the topics on the syllabus, including the keeping of hens for eggs.
Courses cost from as little as £20 for non-members and £15 for members, are run in small groups and are mainly held in the evenings from 6.30pm till 8.30pm. There is a meeting room downstairs and also a garden patio area where canapes and wines are served.
I sit to talk to two local ladies who tell me how pleased they were when The Idler Academy opened its doors, “There is nothing quite like it, it’s such a welcoming, lovely neighbourhood place.” they tell me. They are so right. What is interesting is that it has taken a downturn in the world’s economic security to make us all stop and realise we need to be more satisfied with our lot, we need to stop and smell the roses and we need to find joy and interest in culture, the arts and skills that matter. It’s not idleness, it’s common sense.
The Idler Academy website: www.idler.co.uk
Follow the team on Twitter: @idleracademy