Course Talk: Meet the Director of Anglia Leisure Learning, Liza JonesListed on February 4, 2014 in Spotlight
The management team at Anglia Leisure Learning Limited have been successfully running workshops, courses and seminars for some 30 years. We asked Director Liza Jones for an insight into events and venues in 2014 and any plans for 2015.
LC – What was your motivation to create Anglia Leisure Learning Ltd and when did it launch ?
LJ – With the withdrawal by many local authorities of their subsidies to adult leisure courses, and the subsequent closure of several centres, there was a shortage of providers of short residential courses. Following appropriate research, we decided to fill this gap, launching Anglia Leisure Learning in the autumn of 2013 to offer suitable courses which we now hold at carefully chosen venues.
LC – You run courses in various locations – what do you look for when selecting a new venue ?
LJ – Venues need to have comfortable en suite accommodation, good syndicate rooms suitable for running courses and quality in house catering. Helpful staff, free wifi and good road and rail access are also prerequisites as is plenty of free parking. And of course they have to offer a suitable price so that we can keep the overall cost of courses at a realistic level. Some venues have welcome extras such as free access to an in house leisure centre.
LC – You compiled a guide book “Which short residential course should you choose. 101 answers to the key questions you may have”. If someone has never attended a short residential course before, what are their most common concerns ?
LJ – If they are coming on their own, they want to be sure that they will receive a warm welcome and quickly make friends and feel at home. Quality tuition is vital whatever the level of knowledge and skill of the student, and many of our tutors have a strong following because they work well with mixed ability groups from beginners to advanced. Students like to have comfortable accommodation and quality, appetising food with a choice of dishes. And, depending on the subject of their course, in addition to skills and knowledge gained, they usually like to take home something that they have made, perhaps to keep as a memento or to use as a gift.
LC – You offer a special “Tour Operator” service – what does this include and what kind of groups do you cater for? Will you cover any location ?
LJ – Where there is a group of people who want their own course but do not want the hassle of organising it, we will handle all the admin and nitty gritty paperwork leaving them just to turn up and enjoy their course.
They can rely on us to deal with :
- the research (to find suitable venues and negotiate good rates)
- the legals (such as contracts with venues, and tutors if they have them, booking accommodation)
- the financials (collecting fees from students, booking and paying for the venue by due dates, paying the tutor if applicable)
- the insurance (such as public liability)
- the licences (such as Data Protection)
- checking that electrical equipment if used (such as sewing machines) is safe and arranging for PAT certificating if required prior to its use (in the interests of safety for all).
We act as a source of information for students, answering their questions from what they need to bring, what facilities the venue has, and the dozen minutiae and queries that can occur.
We ensure that any special needs they have (such as disabled access, special diets, friends wanting to have adjacent rooms, etc) are catered for. We even arrange for a cold supper to be prepared if someone is arriving late on the first night.
And we have a member of our team on site to meet students, introduce them to their tutor (if relevant) show them the layout of the venue (where their bedroom, course room and dining room are) give them a Welcome Pack and ensure they settle in quickly.
We also have tour operators’ insurance cover so they can be reassured they are dealing with a reputable company.
We have run independent courses for groups as diverse as a Recorder Quartet and a Go it Alone Patchwork and Quilting group , and we will help run courses on any reasonable subject for independent groups.
Regarding locations, we will run courses at any suitable venues in England.
LC – How many people take part in one of your courses and how much leisure time do they have
LJ – Courses usually have between 8-15 students, but this can vary depending on the subject. The course timetable is flexible and students can take time out whenever they like, but most are so enthusiastic about their chosen subject that they focus on the course. However, there is always time for an after lunch walk or, where venues have a pool, a swim before breakfast. Venues welcome students for weekend courses from 2 pm on the Friday although courses don’t officially start until supper that evening. This means they can arrive early and spend a few hours relaxing and pampering themselves before dinner.
LC – You are now running courses in Birmingham and Suffolk. Will you be looking to expand into any other locations ?
LJ – Yes, in time we plan to have a selection of venues across the country to match the demand from students living in various areas. We started with a venue on the Suffolk/Norfolk borders, and this year we have added Ipswich and Rednal (just south of Birmingham). We are always looking for suitable new venues.
LC – Which are the most popular and requested courses in your programme ?
The craft and textile courses are the most popular – patchwork, creative stitch, embroidery, lace making, beading. Other subjects that are popular are creative writing and journalism, painting and drawing, and calligraphy.
LC – How do you select your tutors ?
LJ – Having selected the subjects that students want, we then research tutors for those topics, seeking out those that have a combination of knowledge, adult tuition expertise and a lively, engaging personality. Most of our tutors have extensive experience of running short residential courses and the particular needs of students taking such courses. Enthusiasm and a passion for their subject are also vital.
LC – Your programme for 2014 includes several arts and crafts weekends as well as new subjects such as Ukelele Playing and History. When do you start planning for courses in 2015 and what plans do you have for the next programme?
LJ – We have already started work on the schedule for 2015, although this is not published yet. Some of the best tutors we use are booked up 18 months ahead. While we will continue with the ever popular traditional art and craft courses, we are always researching potential new topics that will appeal to a wide range of students. Some subjects are added because they are fashionable, hence the inclusion of Ukulele for Beginners this year, since there has been a lot of interest in this subject in the general media of late.
LC – What do you consider to be the greatest advantage of belonging to LeisureCourses.net and previously ARCA (the Adult Residential Colleges Association)
LJ – Like belonging to any trade association, industry sector body or institute, there is strength in numbers. There is recognition of being part of a larger entity which promotes best practice while raising the profile of the leisure courses sector. Of course, the individual enquiries we receive via Leisure Courses are very valuable, but there is also the opportunity to publicise our courses and what we offer, as well as being in touch with others who offer similar courses. This conveys mutual benefit, such as helping to keep all us course providers abreast of important, ever changing issues that relate to the field of short residential adult courses. There are also networking opportunities and the potential to have a co-ordinated voice for the sector. We have great empathy with the strapline “Because Life is for Learning and Learning is for Life!”.
LC – In your personal view, what are the greatest benefits for someone that attends a short residential leisure course ?
LJ – Students have an opportunity to have a couple of days relaxing and being looked after while making new friends and gaining extra skills. Their confidence can be enhanced and they can enjoy the individual attention from an expert tutor. The interaction with both tutor and other students throughout a weekend course enables plenty of opportunities to exchange ideas and thoughts. And by keeping their brain active and stimulated, many find they no longer have time to notice any aches and pains.