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February 8, 2019 —

The hidden value of workshops and retreats

Continuing to learn and acquire new skills throughout your life is always beneficial. We look at some of the extra hidden benefits from taking part in creative workshops and retreats.
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Workshops, masterclasses, day events and retreats have risen in popularity over recent years, and perhaps with increased time spent online in our day to day, having the chance to get out in the real world with like-minded souls is an appealing way to counterbalance that. Retreat host Vanessa Dennett highlights some further hidden benefits of attending an IRL event and shares details of a few workshops and retreats happening around the country.

Running and hosting workshops over the past couple of years has offered me great insight into the sometimes unanticipated benefits of attending events in person. While the variety and indeed quality of online courses continues to grow there are some excellent reasons to commit your time and resources to a day of learning amongst a group of real life people.

There are ever-increasing numbers of workshops and day retreats available all over the country at which you might learn anything from mastering crochet or learning how to identify birdcalls, to making sourdough, creating a beautiful wreath or learning how to live with a simplified wardrobe. You can acquire skills that will be useful and enjoyable for the rest of your life, but there are other good reasons for you to invest your time and money in these days.

Benefits of attending real life workshops and retreats

A new environment

Stepping out of our daily routines is wonderfully stimulating and invigorating. Being immersed in an environment in which time and energy has been spent to ensure a comfortable and inviting welcome, usually with many interesting things to observe, both relaxes us and sparks our imagination and creativity while we wonder about how to incorporate some of these aspects into our own lives.

Uninterrupted time for something new, away from our screens, washing machines, dogs, children or assorted other ‘stuff’ of real life allows us the opportunity to genuinely focus on the subject matter. I’m fairly confident that I’m not the only one around here with a flibbertigibbet mind, which despite my greatest intentions is frequently distracted while working at home. But amongst a group with shared purpose, the chances of focussing on the matter at hand are much greater in my experience.

Feelings of accomplishment

While the initial value of attending a workshop might be perceived as simply learning a new skill or understanding a new subject, I think that a feeling of accomplishment from the day is derived from more than just that.

Sometimes, the whole event can take on the feel of a mini adventure. Venturing somewhere new and immersing yourself into a group of unknown people can feel pretty stressful for the less extroverted amongst us. But, the realisation that almost everyone else has shared similar feelings of anxiety or discomfort about arriving at an event alone is extremely reassuring, and the satisfaction of doing so is a confidence booster and reminder that we are often more capable than we give ourselves credit for.

I’ve often observed too, how participants aid one another with alternative explanations or demonstrations, helpfully supporting the teacher or facilitator. Being instrumental in helping others learn is wonderfully rewarding and can result in that warm glow of satisfaction that helps us to feel good about ourselves.

Shared knowledge and resources

Did you read? Have you watched? Do you follow? Have you tried? Could you? Would you? I hear all these questions over and over again as people chatter. We love to try and be of help to others, to suggest a website, shop, magazine, blog or workshop that will be of interest or support. Whether your event of choice is offering general business skills or specialised technical knowledge, the chances are that you will encounter new thoughts, ideas and resources that spark your imagination and that you’ll resolve to explore more thoroughly in your own time.

Connection and collaboration

There is inarguably community to be found from online courses, and I have benefitted greatly from this myself, but the power of being in the same room as real people while you learn of shared interests and experiences is different somehow. The camaraderie, bonhomie and humour resulting from groups such as these is where the seeds of genuine friendships are sown, based on the comforting reassurance that others are thinking, feeling and doing the same as we are.

The connections we make in real life are very often sustainable as they can be happily continued online even if geography makes regular meet ups challenging. In the early days of business and projects when perhaps our Instagram accounts aren’t as perfectly curated and attracting the attention we might like, it’s often those online friends whom we’ve met in person who become our biggest cheerleaders. Quietly watching our backs and supporting us even on the days when everything seems to be impossible, these folk with whom we swap comments, suggestions, recommendations and introductions are often those with whom future collaborations will be made.

Below are a few suggestions for retreats and events which might spark your interest and lead you to make those real life connections and friends while learning and discovering new things…

The Simpson Sisters retreats

The Simpson Sisters, somerset

At Oak Tree Barn, just half an hour from Bristol, I host others who offer a variety of workshops ranging from self-care and mindfulness to personal development and creative activities. I’m a great advocate of the pleasure and connection enjoyed by eating around a table together, conversations happily flow when food is involved and the solidarity of indulging in afternoon cake is guaranteed to raise the spirits!

This year I am also offering monthly ‘Nourish & Flourish’ days. These days are intended to offer some support, warmth and camaraderie for anyone working on their own and feeling the need of some company. Just six people, coming together once a month. It is my sincere hope that people will experience some of the benefits I’ve talked about in this post, and will leave the barn feeling as though they have had the equivalent of a spa day (without the chlorine and swimming cossie requirement!)

Hannah Bullivant workshops

Seeds and stitches, Kent

Hannah’s philosophy on getting people together is very much like my own. Not only does she offer an e-course, but she shares her beautifully-styled home in Faversham, Kent by offering day retreats for small groups to enjoy eating, talking, planning and making together. One of her participants offered the following feedback. “I left feeling nurtured and cared for after a period of feeling quite depleted. What is it about a group of women getting together around a table!? SO powerful!”

Kat Goldin workshops

Gartur Stitch Farm, scotland

From their farm in Scotland the multi-talented Kat Goldin and her husband Kevin offer a wide range of activities and experiences, from sourdough baking to cheese making and far beyond! Kat says “We teach practical skills; an ‘in person’ workshop helps people see the reality of how that skill fits in to our actual lives. It’s not a theoretical idea or a project in isolation, workshop participants have the opportunity to get up close and personal with how we use the skills every single day.”

common farm flowers

Common Farm Flowers, somerset

Georgie Newbury, who offers a variety of courses from flower farming to social media from her lovely barn in Somerset, says “People do seem to love our workshop days, whether they’re here to learn something serious like how to make a career change to be a flower farmer, or just to have fun learning to make hand-tie bouquets or grow a cut flower patch. We take that part of the workshop very seriously in that we keep the groups we teach small. I wouldn’t want to have more people than I’d ever consider having for a dinner party so that I can make sure that everyone is very much included in the day and everyone goes away feeling that they’ve got more out of it than they’ve paid for.”

Go Wild workshops

Go Wild Education, Monmouthshire

Jackie Roby can teach you how to light a fire, recognise birdsong and run a forest school amongst many other things. She is truly an inspiring leader and says “Something I definitely notice with my groups is the strong bonds that they form with both me and the other people on the course and I’ve seen friendships blossom that last well after the course has finished. I think it’s the feeling of ‘being in this together’ and the journey of learning and making mistakes that makes the difference. Learning a new skill can be quite intense and people often feel a little vulnerable, especially if they’ve not taken a workshop or course in a while. Seeing a group of like-minded strangers being supportive of each other is great.”

Jessica Rose Williams workshops

Jessica Rose Williams, peak district

Jessica is passionate about creating a sustainable, simple life and is a great advocate of simplifying our wardrobes as part of this lifestyle. She runs occasional workshops from her enviably stylish pared back home in the Peak District and says ’Love it or loathe it, the internet and social media in particular, can be a lonely place. For me, there’s nothing quite like holding space for a group of like-minded women to come together. The conversations we have, lessons we learn and support we offer one another cannot be rivalled online. We all have our online friends, which is completely normal these days, but in our hearts I think we all crave that person to person connection – even fellow introverts like me.’

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