Feed your brain: Innovative classes on non-traditional subjects

Steve Nason and Billy Russell are the brains behind the Brainery. Photo by Andrea Tomkins.

Have you ever wanted to learn how to build a fire? Or write a song? Or learn the basics of rock climbing? And do it in a single afternoon?

The Dovercourt Recreation Association has launched the Westboro Brainery, a series of short inexpensive workshops on a variety of topics that aren’t usually found in a course calendar.

The idea was actually an American import. Steve Nason, Program Director at Dovercourt, learned about a project called the Brooklyn Brainery a few years ago.

Part education, part community building, Nason saw it as a way for Dovercourt to offer a diverse new range of adult programming and help bring people together at the same time.

“To me, the Brainery isn’t so much about a product line, it really comes down to how much can we help the community engage with each other,” says Nason.

“What really struck me about the Brooklyn Brainery is that they aren’t coming up with all the courses and finding the instructors, it’s that the community is coming forward, and bringing their friends and neighbours,” he says. It’s community crowdsourcing at its finest.

Although Dovercourt has populated the initial run with some of their own instructors, they’re counting on members of the wider community to come forward and teach classes as well. Subject matter experts are encouraged to fill out a form on the website if they want to share their ideas and expertise with an audience.

So far, course selections have included an eclectic mix of workshops, most of which cost $8-$15 and run between 1-3 hours. The most popular workshop has been Primitive Fire Making.

“This goes to what this is actually about. It’s not going to be about mainstream programming,” says Nason. “This is about something that you just can’t get elsewhere.”

“What I like about this idea is that it gives us the opportunity to offer a wide variety and let people try different things out,” says Billy Russell, Program Manager (who also happens to be teaching the fire making class).

“It’s a small time commitment, and the price is really low, it’s about the price of a movie. Committing to a 10 week course, for something you’re not sure if you want to pursue, can be really hard,” he says.

Initial response to the Westboro Brainery has been enthusiastic. They’ve already had local residents offer to teach homebrew classes, chess strategy, and geneology.

Eventually Nason would like to see 20-30 classes offered every month, with 8-12 participants in each class.

“We’re a not-for profit charity with a commitment to community building,” says Nason. “Our mission is about having a healthy, active and engaged community in what we’re doing. This is just one more piece that allows us to do this.”

For more information about the Westboro Brainery go to www.westborobrainery.ca. You can also follow the Brainery on Twitter at @WestboroBrain.

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