In the early days of the pandemic, many of us turned to cooking and crafting to help us through lockdown.
Creative pursuits were a soothing balm – from baking banana bread and nurturing sourdough starters, to knitting and crochet.
The discovery, or re-discovery, of the joys of disconnecting and the benefits of mindful, screen-free pursuits, was one of the few positive things to come out of a frightening and turbulent time.
At the Reef House in Blakeney, former teacher Rachael Janes has created a gorgeous space where people can come together and enjoy the simple pleasure of learning to cook or craft something new.
In February there’s a Valentine’s Day baking workshop where participants will learn how to make frosted Hummingbird Café red velvet cupcakes, heart motif lemon shortbread jam sandwich biscuits and chocolate truffles.
On February 16, Rachael will be whipping up perfect winter pies – simple, tasty food that won’t break the bank, such as cottage pie, in both meaty and veggie varieties, a thrifty chicken and ham pie which is great for using up leftovers and a speedy fish pie topped with creamy mash.
And on February 24, she’s teaming up with Sue Hudson for another winter warmer – scrumptious soups and breads.
Other forthcoming workshops in the next few months include collagraph printing with Amelia Bowman, willow frame basket making with Karen Bek, Easter baking and a variety of jewelery making sessions.
The sessions run from 10am to 3pm and include homemade cake and lunch.
Rachael and her family moved to Blakeney from Cambridge almost four years ago. She was looking for a change of career and gave herself a year to decide what she wanted to do next.
“I set up a little Airbnb in part of our house and I was searching for crafty things to do with my time,” she says. “And I couldn’t find very much of it – and most of it meant going into Norwich. So I started inviting girlfriends over here and would say things like, I’m going to dye loads of table linen indigo if anyone wants to come and do it. And I would end up with a table full of people and it would inevitably involve lunch and everybody would just have a nice time.”
So by accident, Rachael had discovered her new career.
“People said ‘you should just do this’,” she says. “You’ve got the space to do it and it’s really relaxed.”
Rachael used social media to connect with makers who might want to lead workshops. Through Instagram she met Louise Parker of Restless Rose Vintage, who prints flowers and leaves onto fabric, and invited her along to the Reef House.
“She calls it flower ghosts, which sounds so romantic,” says Rachael.
She also got in touch with Sue Welfare, who is well-known for her bird prints.
Willow weaver Karen Bek runs regular workshops at the Reef House.
“I met her on Instagram – I loved the baskets and the things she was making. She initially came and did Christmas decorations made out of willow and she’s never left, basically,” says Rachael.
Baker Sue Hudson is another regular tutor.
“She does about three workshops a term – the amount of stuff people bake to take away is outrageous,” says Rachael.
This term there are also workshops by Fakenham based silversmith Claire Howard, who makes jewelery inspired by north Norfolk, Holt-based printmaker Caroline Houchell and a seaglass jewelery making session.
Future workshops include stained glass making and wild writing.
Rachael will also be putting her own experience in the classroom to good use by leading cookery workshops.
“I grew it slowly and I love it,” says Rachael.
“I hadn’t really factored in just how much people benefit – not just that they like it, but they benefit.
“The number of times we’ve had tears of happiness round my table…it makes me quite emotional talking about it. The wellbeing bit was an added bonus really, not something I set out to do, but something that is a really lovely benefit nonetheless.
“It’s always so special to have people around my table and gathered together. Whatever people bring with them, you can see the worries and things that cogitate in people’s brains whenever they’re busy running around just disappear.
“Mindfully weaving willow, or dyeing things or cooking things, is a complete distraction from everything that’s going on in real life. And it’s not hiding – it just gives you the energy to go back to real life at the end of the day with new vigour.”
To find out more about creative workshops at Reef House, Blakeney, visit reefmakeanddo.com.