"When we started Laneway Learning in 2012 there was nothing like it and I believe there’s still nothing like it.

Our main point of difference is that people come to us to teach anything and everything. We encourage members of the community to apply to teach a class on something they’re interested in.

We’ve run our classes out of a room in the historic Nicholas Building on Swanston Street since 2017. Before that, we had lots of different venues across the CBD including Little Mule café – we’ve even taught out of a hotel suite. I like to say Laneway is a Melbourne institution and we belong here.

I moved to Melbourne in 2008 to study a Masters in communications at RMIT and I fell in love with the city. I grew up in Madrid, then moved to London, then to Perth and finally ended up here.

One of things that surprises me most about Laneway Learning is how cross-generational our classes are. Being from Spain, I’m used to mixing with all ages but people in Australia tend to stay in their age group. Our classes are so mixed though.

We once ran a class on how to apply makeup and we had young boys as well as 60-year-old women attending. At the beginning the older women were asking the younger boys why they wanted to learn, and by the end they were helping each other apply eyeliner."

"I am a strong believer that it’s easier to start conversations and break social barriers while you’re in a learning environment. I really love that about Laneway.

There were four people who founded Laneway Learning and I started soon after. First as a teacher, then partner and now I’m the manager. All of the founders have left and it’s just me and Maddy, our bookings guru, who run the centre now.

We don’t ask that teachers have a qualification in what they teach, but instead a passion for sharing. Our classes are not designed to upskill or start a side hustle, but to embrace the dying art of finding a hobby. It’s not about making the most amazing thing you can – in fact we openly promote you making something bad if you’re having fun.

When I’ve looked to study things in the past I’ve found they are really expensive. You usually have to sign up for eight weeks and pay a fee of $800 to do anything these days. When we started eleven years ago we were charging $12 for a class. Now, our classes cost around $18 plus materials. We also offer subsidised classes for $5 under our Queer Social brand in partnership with local councils.

For a 75 minute class where you get to make friends, meet new people and learn something, that’s great value.

The first class I ever taught was on steampunk culture because it was something I was interested in. A normal week could include classes on how to make someone’s Grandma’s beloved recipe, personal stories of the Burma Railway Line, macramé, succulent terrariums, acrylic painting, sewing, mindful doodling, spoon carving, finances – the list is endless.

By sharing our passions at Laneway, we’ve helped form a sense of community that’s not alcohol-based. Another point of difference when we started was that we offered something to do during the week, that was low cost, and not a bar or trip to the movies.

Laneway is like a gym for your brain. Research has shown that even just attending a short class can help with loneliness and promote feeling connected. On top of that, lifelong learning and creative practices have been shown to stave off dementia.

One of my proudest moments at Laneway was how quickly we adapted at the beginning of the pandemic. Before, we offered classes solely in-person before but within seven days we were holding 16 classes a week online. I like to say we were the most agile organisation. Since lockdowns have ended we’ve kept some classes online because we realised there was a demand.

We’ve held classes for work parties and hen dos and everyone always seems to have a good time.

For anyone interested in learning something new and having a chat with interesting people, come along and see for yourself.

People who are interested in running a class are encouraged to apply through our website. We offer support in how to prepare a session and give lots of feedback."
Laneway Learning’s General Manager Maria Yebra and Melbourne Manager Maddy Macfarlane in the Nicholas Building venue.

Laneway Learning’s General Manager Maria Yebra and Melbourne Manager Maddy Macfarlane in the Nicholas Building venue.

Laneway Learning online

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Laneway Learning received the Community Award in the City of Melbourne’s 2018 Melbourne Awards for its work to support people to become lifelong learners.