Published on April 4, 2018 | by Alastair Gilmour


A tiddly bit of fun

Encouraging people to use language in the pub possibly isn’t the best way forward. When it’s a foreign language attracting a room full of customers… well, that’s a different storia.

Similarly with painting pictures – it’s not the normal pub or wine bar activity, but language and art classes in a relaxed atmosphere away from the classroom are exactly what two Northumberland friends are building businesses on.

Susannah La Rosa runs Tiddly Languages, teaching Italian, French and Spanish, while Karen Johnson operates Tiddly Painters at various venues around the region, demonstrating the “everyone can paint”. The idea is that learning should be fun and what better way to have fun is to combine it with a glass of something convivial?

Both have been mainstream teachers but knew deep down there was “something else” to apply their talents to. Karen had seen a similar scheme on an American website and was convinced that if it could work in Memphis it could work in Morpeth.

“We appeal to people who want to do something different for a night out,” says Karen. “People are nervous about painting in public as well as speaking foreign languages. They get intimidated by a blank canvas but once you’ve got them over the initial fear they really go for it.”

Susannah’s method is on a conversational level – the “need-to-knows” – what to say and hear in a bar or restaurant, how to book a hotel room and ask directions, all of which you need on a holiday to get the most out of it. Her method is one of role-play where she might take the place of the hotel receptionist while the group soon learns the basics and even get to the stage of complaining in Italian.

She says: “It’s really a course in culture and everybody takes a little bit of Italy from it. It’s definitely not a grammar evening.”

Karen supplies all the materials; canvas, brushes and acrylic paint, so the group doesn’t even have to do any cleaning up.

She says: “I take one of my own paintings along and get them to follow my steps – or they can do something of their own choice. We want people to leave with something they’re really proud of. People who are good at painting and drawing are the ones who practice a lot – it’s like anything.

“You can’t do anything wrong in art; you can just be different, which is what all artists need to be. We then get the bar staff to choose what they think is the best of the night.”

Tiddly Painting and Tiddly Languages has been operating mainly around Morpeth, Alnwick and Ponteland, but Karen and Susannah are keen to hear from landlords and bar owners elsewhere who have a space to spare at a quiet time.

“We encourage them to buy a drink before we start, then again half-way through the sessions – and at the end, of course,” says Susannah. “That way the pubs and wine bars benefit from the group being there – they love it – and there’s a good chance they’ll go back again with friends.”

The pair have plans for joint painting and language sessions, plus corporate events, children’s groups, and for business people to strengthen business relationships.

And who could argue with: “It’s a bit of a giggle while having a drink and a go at something creative.”

Tiddly Languages: 07887 352 272.

Tiddly Painters: 07801 496 706.

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Alastair Gilmour

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