4 January 2024

Illawarra businesses offer new skills, hobbies and experiences you can take up for a happier new year

| Keeli Royle
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gin-making class

2024 could be the year you learn how to make your own gin or take up another exciting hobby. Photo: South Coast Distillery.

Forget the boring resolutions and bring some excitement to 2024 with a vast range of opportunities to learn a unique skill or hobby, or even start a creative career.

Businesses and education facilities across the region offer courses and workshops that cater to your individual interests, whether you only have time for a one-off commitment of a few hours or are ready to dive into a weekly course.

If you’re the type to dwell on tracking down the perfect type of gin and find yourself obsessing about the flavour combinations that bring out the best in your drink, South Coast Distillery has a way to put you in control with its gin-making experiences.

Participants are given a rare behind-the-scenes look at the ins and outs of what goes into their favourite spirit and how it came to be the drink they’ve come to love, while trialling some of the distillery’s award-winning creations.

“You get a bit of an understanding about what gin is, how botanicals play a role in gin and different flavour profiles,” South Coast Distillery events coordinator Nikolaus Kelly said.

“Then we go out into our botanical garden, so we’ve got a little garden in the back of our distillery where everything is edible.

“There’s a lot of different types of botanicals that we use in our own gin that we produce and then a lot of people use the fresh leaves and whatnot in the gins that they’re creating.

“After that, you share ideas about what you want to do. We create a recipe and then we put it in our one-litre stills, get it all boiling, and get the heat into it and through the tubes and into your bottle.”

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The workshops are run multiple times every month and are a popular present for gin enthusiasts as well as being something that you can do with a partner or friends.

“Everyone gets something different out of it,” Nikolaus said. “We cater it to what people want. Some like the scientific side of distilling so we go into that more, some are more passionate about the history of gin, but everyone is happy to have their own bottle of gin at the end of the day that they’ve created themselves.”

But maybe when it comes to your beverages, you’re less of a maker and more of a taster.

South Coast Wine Academy in Kiama can help you take your love of a good drop to a whole new level with courses for both professionals and enthusiasts, and qualifications that are globally recognised.

Certified by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), the academy offers both level-one and level-two courses to help those looking to become connoisseurs, helping them learn about everything from the styles of wine and types of grapes to food and wine pairing, storing and serving wine and how to describe it.

Passing the courses will give you accreditation that can help push you forward in the hospitality industry or even just the skills and knowledge to seriously impress at your next dinner party.

Perhaps you prefer what’s on the plate to what’s in the glass.

In that case, satisfy your sweet tooth by learning the art of cake decorating at one of the many classes offered at Cakers Warehouse in Albion Park Rail.

The business, which has a passion for all things cakes, was started almost a decade ago by members of the Delaney family from one of the region’s most recognisable cake stores, Delaney’s Cakes.

Elevating your cakes to the next level is made possible through their workshops, which teach you how to perfect your piping, create sugar flowers that look freshly picked, and somehow turn fondant and buttercream into masterpieces.

Keen to create but feeling too full from the festive season to even think about food or drink?

Well, if you have a passion for design and creativity, are captivated by the colour and fragrance of a beautiful bouquet or are even just looking for a task to help with team building, workshops at Wollongong Flowers provide the opportunity to connect with some incredible natural creations as well as the people around you.

floral workshop

Floral workshops at Wollongong Flowers are popular for hens’ outings and corporate events, and with budding florists. Photo: Wollongong Flowers.

The local florist provides a range of opportunities to learn something new, whether it be by creating terrariums, flower crowns, centrepieces or wreaths.

Wollongong Flowers owner and manager Chris Briscoe-Hough said while the workshops often catered to the specific needs of a group coming in, even in pre-planned classes participants could have different experiences while developing their individual craft.

“Say we’re going to do a vase arrangement or something like that. While they will learn how to do that, they can ask different questions about things like looking after your flowers and all that,” she said.

“Then they might do a bouquet, they might do a box arrangement, all different things.”

The types of participants are as vast as the opportunities themselves, with the workshops often integrated into hens’ parties or corporate events.

And while the class can be just for fun or bringing people together, it can also spark the pursuit of an interesting career.

“One of the girls we had in actually went away to learn more and now is a florist,” Chris said.

“And I think it’s one of those industries where a lot of people want to do it but they never do.

“It can lead to that but also sometimes people come who do events, so for different events they can do their own flowers but can also see how hard it is and the work that goes into it.”

Another skill that requires work and care is creating something special from a lump of clay.

Clay Wollongong offers something for every level, from one-off social events to single workshops and longer courses to fine-tune your skills or memberships for you to create independently.

The pottery studio offers both tasters and full four and six-week courses in things like wheel-throwing and hand-building, with participants coming from many walks of life and bringing a wide variety of experiences.

“It’s a real broad mix,” Clay Wollongong’s Rosanna De Couvreur said.

“I find a lot of people who are enjoying it tend to have nine-to-five jobs and maybe they don’t really have that creative outlet, and there’s people from lots of different backgrounds.”

And you don’t have to give up your day job to have a go.

“We try and keep it as flexible as possible for people to do, so we’ve created a thing called flexi pass, which is mainly for shiftworkers because we noticed that heaps of doctors or nurses that do shiftwork wanted to sign up for classes but could never commit to the once a week for a six-week period,” Rosanna said.

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She said participants, even in the Wine and Clay events, were surprised at how relaxed and connected they felt after sessions.

“I think it’s a really positive experience because the clay world is such a small community, so I feel like when people come in they get a real sense of community and closeness. It’s quite grounding and you feel really supported in each other.

“I think it’s a real mindfulness activity and I think people don’t necessarily expect that.”

Rather recycle than create from scratch?

The Tinkerage at Reviva Dunmore is the perfect place to pursue your own projects or get involved in workshops centred on sustainability and giving items a second chance.

It could be experiencing the art of knotting, braiding, and macrame, turning spoons into jewellery or even just learning to use power tools to give you a boost on your next project.

The workshops are free for Shellharbour residents, and provide a great place to socialise and create a sense of community.

And if it’s choice that you’re looking for, WEA Illawarra has been conducting educational and leisure classes for more than a century and offers close to anything you can think of, from language to writing, craft, food and dance.

“Our learning experiences offer so much more than developing a skill,” a WEA spokesperson said.

“They provide the opportunity for individuals to connect and engage with like minds and make new friends.

“They boost self-esteem and confidence, keep our minds healthy and active and provide a positive boost to our wellbeing.”

Leisure courses kick off in February and are already filling up, with many embracing the chance to do something new in 2024.

“At the forefront of Term 1 enrolments are health and wellbeing courses such as tai chi, remedial massage and Frontline yoga. In creative arts, we have acrylics, sketching, watercolours and pottery, adult ballet and line dancing. And don’t forget our cooking classes!” the spokesperson said.

To find out more about any of the classes or workshops, visit the business websites linked above.

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