Review: The School of Life

School of Life, Marchmont Street, London

I first read about The School of Life in a free newspaper back when it opened in September 2008, and have been meaning to go along to one of their classes ever since. Director Sophie Howarth described the concept to The London Paper by saying, “the idea is to give people the knowledge they need to get more out of everyday life”. It sounded quirky, friendly and useful which is exactly what I think learning should be.

They host a variety of classes, weekend workshops, Sunday sermons and a Breakfast Club at their cute and cozy premises on Marchmont Street, near Russell Square tube. Covering subjects like love, friendship, creativity, work, money, reading, conversation and even death, The School of Life really do live up to their strapline of “ideas to live by”. It’s not all deadly serious either, as they even have a class on how to be cool!

In the end, I decided to take a rather popular class entitled how to find a job you love and signed up on their website with no fuss whatsoever. The day before my class, I received an email with a pre-task. It was a quick question they wanted all attendees to think about in advance and, most interestingly, they gave us this reason for sending it:

“You will be discussing this question with others on arrival at The School of Life. So often the first question we ask a new acquaintances is ‘What do you do?’, rather than a question about where they are from or what they care about in life. Work clearly plays a major role in defining who we are. This will certainly come up again during the evening.”

As I don’t define myself by my job, I always hate it when people ask me what I ‘do’ and so found this all rather refreshing. I pondered the question during the following day and wondered what sort of answers the other people in the class would share. On arrival at the School at 6.30pm, I was warmly greeted and invited to help myself to a range delicious sandwiches and savouries, along with wine and soft drinks, before getting down to saying hello to a few people and discussing our pre-task.

The room started to fill up and we were soon joined by Nick Southgate who was leading our class and is one of those instantly likable chaps who seems to remember people’s names effortlessly. Nick then took us all downstairs to the main room in The School of Life ready for the class to begin. Despite being a white-walled basement with office carpets and rows of chairs, this was no ordinary classroom as the walls are decorated with fantastic illustrations of living room furniture by artist Charlotte Mann. This instantly put me in a more relaxed and creative frame of mind, which can only be a good thing.

Nick’s style was great and so the class felt extremely useful right from the start as we were encouraged to chip in with ideas and experiences, but not to the point where we’d over-run. 9.30pm was the published end time and we were promised that would be adhered to, with further discussions in a local pub, if required. The presentation was lively, the individual tasks thought provoking, and the small group discussions proved to be extremely helpful. There is no doubt that these are extremely well-run sessions. They even managed to find time to fit in a break for more drinks and a slice of cake.

At the end of the class, after a quick browse of the School’s intriguing bookshop I headed for home, wishing I wasn’t too tired to join some of the others in the pub. However, it didn’t end there as, a mere half an hour after the class ended, we were all sent an email with some homework consisting of lists of books, movies and websites which may be of use when exploring the subject further. And all this for £30! Money well spent, I assure you.

If you live in or near London, I’d recommend you check out the classes at The School of Life as they are a fun and useful way to spend an evening. For those of you who can’t get to London during the week, why not give their weekend offerings a look? I think that more cities should have spaces like this. It was like a breath of fresh air.

This piece was first published on BitchBuzz in April 2010.

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