Alternative Christmas shopping: give a skill

It’s that time of year when one starts to think, ‘this year I am really going to make an effort to find some interesting and unusual Christmas presents, I might even make some’. Then in four weeks time you find yourself running around Westfield hot and weeping, buying nothing, and rushing home to do a frantic online shop, just as Amazon announce there will be no more deliveries before Christmas.

Well fear not this year, because over the next few weeks, we will attempt to make the whole process a little bit easier, by offering you some alternative shopping venues and unique present ideas.

I always find finding presents for the men in my life the hardest as they are A. very fussy, and B. seem to have everything already. So instead of buying an actual present, I came up with the idea of buying a skill!

A couple of years ago, while watching Kirtsy’s Home-made Christmas, there was a clip of someone trying glass blowing. ‘I’d like to try that’, M.A.D remarked, and for once I listened and took note and the next week booked him a course for Christmas.

Run by a small, highly skilled team of traditional glassblowers with over 40 years experience, the course is based in one of London’s finest purpose built glass making studios. It isn’t cheap at £210 for a day, but M.A.D loved it and felt he had really learnt something. Being a graphic designer and very good at DIY, he is already quite skilled with his hands, but felt they adapted the course to suit all levels and abilities. He made a paper weight, a vase and a bowl.

It seems to be the only glass blowing course in London (let us know if you hear of another one) and is very popular (they couldnt believe their luck after the TV progeramme!) so places are limited. You can book online.

The glass blowing was such a successful present, that last year I booked an upholstery course at The School of Stuff in Dalston, which also went down well. They offer a wide variety of courses in things like cabinet making, chair caning and furniture restoration.

This year, I am planning to book M.A.D and teen son a place on a barista course. Teen son is planning to travel a lot next year and I figured if he can make coffee, he should be able to work almost anywhere in the world. Amanda found the perfect course when she visited The Experimental Food Society event recently. Prufrock Coffee launched The London BRAT, Central London’s first centre for Barista Resource and Training, last year. They run large and small classes and one to one tuition in all aspects of coffee making, as well as refresher sessions for professional baristas. Group classes cost from £65 for three hours and private training is £135 for two hours and you can bring a friend.

You may also want to check out Billingsgate Seafood school, who offer various fish cookery and fishmonger courses lead by expert instructors including chefs and fishmongers, who work alongside small groups to make sure every session is really practical and insightful.

The courses in butchery skills at the Ginger Pig Butchers in Marylebone, also sound interesting. You can choose to learn about pork, lamb, beef or sausage making and all classes cost £135.

And finally, perhaps a bread making class might be useful and fun. The Bertinet Kitchen in Bath do all sort of delicious sounding courses, including one called “Desperate Housewives and Hapless Husbands’, which sounds intriguing. They offer a days Introduction to bread making, which sounds perfect for aspiring bakers.

Apologies that most of these suggestions are in London. Delicious Magazine have a list of baking courses around the country and Groupon often have some good deals.

The best thing about buying someone a skill for Christmas, is that usually you get to benefit too – coffee and freshly baked bread anyone?


  • Last year Mr Glam bought me a 1 day cookery course at Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons. It was the most fantastic day, cooking food for a dinner party, which we ate for lunch with the most fabulous bottle of wine, not one each! We made a tart to take home, had a tour of the kitchens and the amazing gardens with explanations of the use of the produce and very obscure herbs. Having made friends with the person I cooked with, we decamped to the bar afterwards for a long cool snifter of the bubbly stuff. A fun and luxurious day. I think I might suggest Ginger Pig this year. GG

  • Louise says:

    I’ve just been looking at bread making courses this very day for the OH, and am thinking the E5 Bakehouse might just be the ticket:
    I’ve cottoned on to this after the OH’s sister bought him a Hawk Experience Day and a Wine Tasting Day, both of which he loved…..

  • Jo says:

    There are amazingly interesting sounding courses at West Dean College near Chichester, make a silver spoon, a wood turned bowl, a willow sculpture, a chair, a headpiece, jewelry…..

  • Jane says:

    Oh yes ofcourse Louise, I forgot about the Bakehouse – going to add it in now – I LOVE it there. Jx

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