The new night courses: from dog washing to hole fixing


Economics, forensics, dog-grooming and DIY are just some of the evening courses that are booming in busted Ireland. ANNA CAREYlooks at what we’re learning when the sun goes down

HARRY DOESN’T look very happy. A few minutes ago, the little Maltese dog was cheerfully sitting on a table being brushed by his owner, economics teacher Joanne Whelan. Now he’s in a bath, sopping wet and covered in suds, and looking much smaller without his usual halo of white fur. A few feet away, a recently bathed Cavalier King Charles spaniel called Jodie is having her fur dried with a special hairdryer, while across the room another Cavalier, the cheerful Alex, is having a rather drastic haircut as a group of people look on (“He loves being groomed,” says his owner, Nicola Redmond).

This sort of scene may not be what springs to mind when you hear the words “evening class”. But now it’s possible to find a class in just about everything. The recession may be biting, but people are still eager to learn new skills.

Susan Henry is the director of adult education at Dún Laoghaire College of Further Education, which offers classes in everything from traditional subjects – for instance languages – to more novel ones – such as, yes, dog grooming. She says people do evening classes for many different reasons. “Some are doing it to get out of the house and have a bit of fun after work. Others are upskilling to advance their careers. And some are doing a class that will help them save money in the long run.”

Which is where the dog-grooming class comes in. Run by Róisín Hogan of Heavenly Hounds in Blackrock, the class seems lively, sociable and fun, attended by men and women of all ages. Every week, two or three of the students bring in their own dogs and Hogan shows the whole class how to keep the different breeds in trim. Nicola Redmond, who has two dogs, found out about the course thanks to a leaflet that came through her door.

“I was interested in doing an evening class anyway, and this class caught my eye straight away,” she says. “It can cost up to €100 to get two dogs groomed, so it makes sense to learn how to do a bit yourself, just for the upkeep, so you don’t have to get them groomed as often.”

Hogan isn’t worried that teaching grooming will put groomers out of business. “If people have the money for groomers they’ll still go, but they may want to stretch time between grooms. And lots of dogs shouldn’t really need to come to groomers – they can be kept in very good condition by their owners with just a little bit of help.”

This isn’t the only unusual yet practical class at the college. On the other side of the campus Niall Hughes is showing 12 women of all ages how to fix a hole in a plasterboard wall. It’s the fourth week of the college’s first DIY class for women, and it’s going well.

“It’s great fun and there’s a lovely atmosphere,” says Catherine Harnett. “We’re not just listening to instructions – it’s very hands-on.” It certainly is – over the course of the class the women learn to expertly cut out the board, mix plaster and apply it to the model wall, joking and encouraging each other all the while. It looks so interesting and useful, not to mention fun, that I’m tempted to sign up for next term.

Many of the students say the all-female nature of the class was a big part of its appeal. “It’s more comfortable, and it feels more grounded,” says Caroline Murtagh. “There are no macho guys acting like they know it all.” And the teacher is enjoying it too. “When Susan suggested it, I thought it was a very good idea,” says Hughes. “The women are more enthusiastic – they have a big reserve of questions that they want to find out about all at once.”

The women relish their new skills. Several say how much they’ve always resented having to pay someone to do something they know they’d be able to do if someone just showed them how. Now, as Catherine Harnett says, these women will never be patronised by handymen – professional or otherwise – again. “They think you’re just the little woman who doesn’t know anything about this.” She grins. “But now we do know.”

THE ATMOSPHERE ISmore intense in a very different evening class in the city centre. The Communication and Management Institute’s class in forensic science, forensic psychology and criminology has proved very popular since it was launched three years ago. The first half of the three-hour class is devoted to forensic investigation, the second to criminology.

It’s fascinating and well-delivered – as the lecturer, a forensic scientist who prefers not to be named, takes the students step by step through a crime-scene examination, before the criminology lecturer, barrister Katherine Finn, explores issues relating to the penal system. As we’re told the four best ways to search a crime scene, I feel the urge to become an amateur sleuth for the first time since I read Enid Blyton’s Five Find-Outers books.

While some of the class are there just because they find the subject interesting, drawn by the exciting world of shows such as CSI, for others it’s a practical issue. Finn has taught several gardaí who are keen to add another string to their bow.

Some students see it as a starting point for a new career. Clare McCabe recently left her job as a make-up artist in Dublin airport after 21 years to study psychology as a mature student. “I wanted to find the area of psychology I’m most interested in, and thought this course would be my foundation, both to see if I liked it and to give myself some background knowledge. I’m fascinated by the criminal mind.” She’s not a fan of CSI. “I’ve never watched it. I prefer documentaries.”

Her classmate Emma O’Connor recently graduated from UCD with a degree in social science. She’s taking a year off but plans to do a master’s in criminology, and ultimately wants to join the Garda. “The course is great so far,” she says. “We did a lot of crime modules in social science, so a lot is familiar already, but the forensics side is completely new. Ultimately I think studying criminology would make me a better guard.”

IT’S NOT ONLYunusual practical courses that are seeing a boost. Creative and even frivolous ones are also still popular. Dressmaking, which combines creativity and practicality, is always the first course to fill up at Dún Laoghaire, but the sugar-craft class, which teaches students how to design speciality cakes, is also hugely popular.

Maths teacher Breffne Earley, who co- ordinates the evening classes at Cabinteely Community College, says yoga and Pilates classes are particularly popular there, as is Zumba, a lively mixture of dance and aerobic exercise.

And for those who want to keep fit in a more glamorous way, there’s always ballroom dancing, whose popularity has been boosted in recent times by the popularity of Strictly Come Dancing. Many people are feeling the urge to don their sequins and hit the dance floor. At the first Latin dancing class of the term in Cabinteely, the new (and sadly sequin-free) recruits are already cha-cha-cha-ing in perfect time after just half an hour. “The beauty of dancing is that you can do it at any age, whether you’re three or 80,” says teacher Eithne Dunne.

Friends Laura Burke and Laura Kennedy enjoyed their first Latin class, although they joke that they wish they could be as good as some of the Strictlystars. “I wish I’d worked harder when I was younger,” says Burke, who did some ballroom dancing as a child.

They’re enjoying the exercise element, too. “It’s a bit of a work-out,” laughs Kennedy. “I didn’t think it would be that tough.” But that combination of fun and challenge is what continues to draw people to evening classes all over the country – whether they’re learning how to solve crime, shake their tail feathers or wash a miserable-looking dog.

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A class apart: Unusual courses

There are plenty of surprising courses on offer. Scoil Mhuire Community School in Clane, Co Kildare, offers a class called How We Shot the Tiger, which explains the economic crisis. If you want to look to the past, try the Diploma in Family History Research at Dublin’s Independent Colleges. And if you want to face the future by becoming self-sufficient and growing your own vegetables, Newpark Adult Education Centre in Blackrock, Co Dublin, offers a class in ecological gardening.

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