"The basis of the course is to teach people to design creatively"
Much of her work has been in designing landscapes and planting schemes for schools. She is a strong supporter of the pressure group, Learning through Landscapes, which has persuaded many local authorities and schools to exploit school grounds as a learning resource, with the consequent blossoming of wildlife gardens and other environmentally friendly schemes.
Working in a creative job, Alison has been aware of the OCA for some years. She wanted to do a course which would teach her something different, preferably in a group so she could learn from other people, exchange tips and ideas and discuss each other's work. She is currently two-thirds of the way through the nine-month creative textiles course, with three other students, based at the Ruskin Gallery in Sheffield.
The gallery, which is full of the work of the Victorian writer and critic John Ruskin, as well as textiles by William Morris, the creative force behind the Arts and Crafts movement, is an inspirational place to study, she says.
"The course is quite intensive and I may decide to take a year out to consolidate what I have learned before I move on to the next stage. But I will definitely carry on. It's a fabulous way to learn. It really pushes and stretches you, and makes learning at a higher level very enjoyable."
So enthusiastic is Alison about the OCA, its methods, and the people it has introduced her to, that she has signed up to become a tutor in her own specialist area. From the autumn she will begin teaching the art of garden design, a course developed in collaboration with the National Trust.
"The basis of the course is to teach people to design creatively, but also to teach problem solving. Designing a garden you have to marry artistic and aesthetic ideas with technical constraints.
"You may want to create a certain style, such as a Japanese or a cottage garden or a very spartan modern garden, but you have to think about the climate, how people circulate through spaces and what plants will grow in that particular area. By learning to design and analyse those issues you can turn these constraints to your advantage."
The course, like other OCA courses, is run at a number of centres throughout the country, and students are free to learn at their own pace, using a course handbook supplemented by a series of videos. It is available at two levels and, for anyone with ambitions to move on to a degree course, it is accredited by Thames Valley University.