Did you know you could learn new skills – from calligraphy to ukulele - at this Sheffield shopping centre?

Nikki Whiston calligraphy a peaceful way to learn the basics of a fantastic skillin an energetic environment
Nikki Whiston calligraphy a peaceful way to learn the basics of a fantastic skillin an energetic environment

As I sweep the tip of the long pen up the page, it leaves behind a thin black line – albeit it a shaky one.

I frown and look at the demo page laying next to me on the table. Okay, yes, I have a long way to go, but then it is my first class. 90 minutes ago, I’d never even held a calligraphy pen.

By the end of a two-hour class taught by Nikki Whiston -I was beginning to feel quite pleased with my lettering

By the end of a two-hour class taught by Nikki Whiston -I was beginning to feel quite pleased with my lettering

I tackle the next letter, a graceful M.

‘Thin' I murmur as I bring the pen up, ‘thick’ I breathe out slowly as I arc it back down. Yes. I'm talking out loud. But if any of the other 15 students think I’m nuts, they’re all far too engrossed in their owns letters to let on. ‘Thin, thick, thin, thick.’

It’s a Wednesday evening and I’m sat on Meadowhall’s Park Lane (that’s the bit outside Debenhams to you and I) at one of a number of tables arranged in a horseshoe shape. I’m here for one of Meadowhall’s brand new Sessions classes.

The Sessions is a collection of interactive workshops, tastings and masterclasses launched at the shopping centre this spring, intended to give its shoppers access to everything from gin-tasting to soap-making.

The two-hour calligraphy class was taught at apop-up station at Meadowhalls Park Lane

The two-hour calligraphy class was taught at apop-up station at Meadowhalls Park Lane

Meadowhall has teamed up with a range of local experts and businesses to launch the innovative series, which hopes to connect the community, giving people the opportunity to socialise whilst learning and developing new skills. It is also hoped the initiative will support local incubation businesses, showcasing the region’s many talented and inspirational specialists.

Around us, shoppers pass curiously, bags in hand, some straining to see what we’re working on. Our session this evening is being hosted by local calligrapher Nikki Whiston, who makes her way around the tables in between her demos, checking in with each of us personally.

I'm amazed by her peaceful the session is. We’ve had nibbles, tea and coffee, and water all brought to us while we work, and are soon all so absorbed in what we're doing, that we forget we’re in the middle of a bustling shopping centre.

By the time the class comes to a close, two hours after it began, I’m pleased with the way my lettering is starting to look. I may have a long way to go, but the session has definitely whet my appetite, opening my eyes to a brand new skill.

Tim Smithies Ukulele is one of a number of local operators offering regular sessions at the centre

Tim Smithies Ukulele is one of a number of local operators offering regular sessions at the centre

“That’s exactly what we’re intending,” says Darren Pearce, Meadowhall centre director.

“We know from talking to our customers that coming to Meadowhall is about more than shopping; it’s about an experience, and so we’re evolving our retail space to reflect that.

“People visit us for the chance to socialise and spend time in an atmosphere that’s vibrant and full of opportunities to discover something new. We’ve always worked hard to introduce fresh and innovative ways to entertain our guests and support the local community. We believe The Sessions could be one of our most creative and ground-breaking ideas yet.

“The take up on these sessions already has been phenomenal, with people really keen to broaden their skills and try out new experiences. At a class last week, we spoke with a mother and daughter who'd both taken the day off work to come and shop, eat lunch, and then attend one of the sessions together. It became a day of experience for them, something they could share together.”

The Sessions in Meadowhall

The Sessions in Meadowhall

Other upcoming sessions available in the coming weeks include a ukulele masterclass with Tim Smithies Ukulele, a doodle class with Dave Draws, gin school with Locksley Distillery, soap making with Soap Loaf Company, beer tasting with Sheffield Brewery, and a floristry workshop with Plantology.

“People are really enjoying the variety of what we’re offering, and this is definitely a long-term project for us,” says Darren.

“The idea is that we’ll carry them on as long as people are continuing to want to learn and develop, and we have lots of ideas for new sessions moving forwards.

“We’re keen to work with more and more local operators and businesses to promote their work in the community. We’re keen to grow and evolve The Sessions, so we’d like to encourage anyone else interested in hosting an activity to get in touch with their ideas.”

Dave Draws, who will host his Doodle Masterclass monthly at the centre, says: “Having traveled the world with my art, it’s great to be back in my home region again working with a Sheffield business to deliver a great new project for the local community. 

“Through the masterclass, I hope to show visitors that you don’t have to be an expert to create a piece of art and inspire them to pick up a pen themselves. Anyone willing to try doodling can develop a personal style and create something really special in the process. I look forward to seeing what the people of Sheffield have to offer.”

The Sessions have been created to teach visitors to the centre a range of new skills

The Sessions have been created to teach visitors to the centre a range of new skills

Visit www.meadowhall.co.uk/sessions to find out more about the programme of sessions, or to book a place on an activity.