Sue Baughan spent a week of this summer decamped to London to learn how to shape patterns on leather. The summer before that, it was sandal-making, and the one prior to that was spent making boots. By day, the 39-year-old from Boddington in Northamptonshire works full-time as a team co-ordinator for an environmental organisation. But in her evenings, holidays and weekends, thanks to that bevy of short courses, Baughan works on shoe-making. She's part of the new breed of Britons aspiring for a portfolio career using different skills to earn money – either at the same time or across a working life – and the country's higher education institutions are reaping the benefits.
Demand for short courses in subjects ranging from African drumming to accountancy via French and family history is soaring.
"Initially, I enrolled on a short course because I wanted a pair of fitted knee-length boots and had difficulty finding any to fit, so I thought I would try making some," Baughan explains. "I enjoyed the boot-making course so much that I decided to carry on learning about shoe-making and working with leather. The more I'm learning, the more I think I would like to change my career in the long term."
Baughan believes the current economic climate means it's a "good idea to have a variety of skills in different areas – it should make you more employable". She's now making shoes for her friends and family, signing up to more London College of Fashion short courses and setting up a workshop at her home. "In the long term, I hope to have enough skills and experience to start my own bespoke shoe-making business," she says.