Everyone in professional restorer Alan Kirby's class at the Clifden Centre in Twickenham, Surrey, is lovingly restoring an antique that has been in their family for years, or one they acquired for a song because it was in such poor condition. "Students don't need to know anything before they start as long as they are fairly practical," says Mr Kirby. "If they're really inept they may have problems, but I am often astonished by the way even non-practical people get to grips with it."
The glory of attending a class is that every tool, glue, polish or accessory you could need is there. Clifden's workshop also has eight hefty double workbenches and a storeroom for work in progress.
During the two-and-a-half-hour session, each student is deeply and single-mindedly involved in his or her own project, although there's a spirit of friendly co-operation and shared enthusiasm as Mr Kirby moves around, sometimes asking everyone to gather round while he explains a technique.
New mother and former stage-manager Bela is undertaking the ambitious restoration of a Victorian chest of drawers. "It's a satisfying hobby, but I dream of running my own restoration business," she reveals. Probation officer Dana has been coming for six or seven years. "It enables me to buy antiques," she explains.
Some of the men (there are two to every woman) work in the antiques trade and want to add restoration to their skills. Others, such as 50-year-old civil engineer Tony, are mending their own pieces. "I've only just started and I'm not very practical," he admits. "But it's incredibly therapeutic. It takes your mind off everyday problems, and something tan-gible comes of your efforts."
This class took place at the Clifden Centre of Richmond Adult and Community College, Surrey. Tel: 0181 891 5907