Seniors share skills and knowledge in ‘marketplace for wisdom’

A group of keenly minded mentors are spreading their wisdom around London in a venture set to enrich the lives of both young and old

A pioneering collective of mentors aged 50-plus are sharing their extraordinary powers – that is, a lifetime’s worth of skills – in talks, tours, workshops and classes throughout London.

The Amazings is a social enterprise venture launched in 2012 and set to roll out across the UK in 2013, which has been billed as a ‘marketplace for wisdom’.

“Initially, we were looking at how we could create a new way to tackle the issue of an ageing population,” says The Amazings co-founder Adil Abrar. “As soon as we engaged with older people, we realised that it wasn’t about coming up with a service for older people, but for older people to provide services to us.

“We realised that the best way we can support people who are retiring or retired is to enable them to share skills, earn money, make new connections and stay active, physically and mentally.”

The Amazings’ website boasts an eclectic range of courses. Want to learn to play guitar with a punk-rock hero? Get to grips with the delicate art of corset making? Master urban planting with the help of a seasoned gardener (who also happens to be a former Beatles, Rolling Stones and The Who roadie)? The classes on offer cover everything from nuclear physics to chess and Indian head massage, and fees start at a rock-bottom £15.

It’s a simple process: The Amazings suggest skills they’d like to pass on, the online community votes for the ones they’d like to learn, and the most popular suggestions are turned into classes for people to book and attend. “We’ve set it up this way to help them gauge demand before they go about booking venues, hiring equipment and fixing dates in the diary,” says Abrar.

“The best way we can support people who are retiring or retired is to enable them to share skills, earn money, make new connections and stay active, physically and mentally”

Epping Forest’s 51-year-old Virginia Samuels offers popular knitting and flower arranging workshops. “I like the idea of passing on skills so we can keep traditions alive,” she says. “I don’t believe we should ever stop learning. The Amazings appealed to me in that you had to be over 50 to be involved. I could do something worthwhile, but not one that was taking a job away from a young person. I’ve always been a traditionalist and like the simple things in life: making stuff, camping and gardening. And I have met some lovely people on my workshops.”

Meanwhile Alec Bell, a 66-year-old retired lecturer from Feltham, West London, will offer his first philosophy session in January. “The Amazings approached me from my entry on a site called Skill Pages. They said they were looking for teachers. I was really pleased that the company seemed interested in recreating something like the Adult Education ethos. The fact that the company also emphasised the cross-generational aspect was another great attraction.”

Those who’ve signed up for courses – the ‘superfans’ – have been vocal in their support for the venture. “The sharing of accrued wisdom isn’t treasured in the way it was once, so I thought it was fantastic that The Amazings were setting up a platform to share people’s know-how and experience,” says 24-year-old Amy Ryles, who works in brand consultancy in London Bridge.

“I adore learning different crafts, so I booked myself onto a silk-painting workshop and a crochet evening. I’ve always wanted to learn these skills but I’ve never before found a class that I can afford in both time and money. The Amazings offer me classes that I can try out just for a few hours – like a pick ’n’ mix – and if I find that I’m not very good or didn’t enjoy it, I can afford to try something else.”

She continues: “I think it’s a fantastic platform for introducing people who have skills to teach to those who want to learn. I’m sure, too, that many of the Amazings have business sense, but perhaps not so many know how to attract a younger audience. This offers a door to an enthusiastic market that’s coming through the recession and is keen to get back to basics.”

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