May 31, 2023


Creative living

The best online courses to learn a new skill during lockdown

5 min read

In Telegraph Luxury’s ‘My Luxuries’ series, in which we ask successful and high-profile individuals about what makes them tick, the answer to the question ‘what single thing would make your life more luxurious?’ is almost always the same: time.

With lockdown in place for the foreseeable, we’ve been granted the luxury of untold time. Between home working, schooling and exercising, cleaning out cupboards and regular video calls, we’re discovering ways to fill the long days. 

It’s also an opportunity to learn a new skill – whether fulfilling a long-held desire bake your own bread, or trying your hand at something completely unexpected, there are a raft of experts on hand to offer virtual guidance. These are some of the best.

Best virtual classes


Prue Leith’s renowned cookery school, founded in 1975 and based in London and Truro, has begun a series of online courses to steer students through its myriad dishes and aptitude levels. The levels vary from intermediate to the more advanced, such as a specialist marine cookery course, as well as the launch of a new online Nutrition in Culinary Practice course next month, the first of its kind, designed to fine-tune healthy eating without fad diets. 

The 24-week Essential Cooking Certificate covers the nuts and bolts of gourmet cooking, from how to temper chocolate and knead flatbreads to finessing the perfect hollandaise, a “mother sauce” from which, once mastered, you’ll be able to go on and create other variations. 

Leiths cookery school – Gerrit Buntrock

The set-up online seems complex, but is intuitive to use after a few attempts at navigation. The course operates in a leisurely fashion, inviting participants to submit a photo of a dish a week to a ‘cohort’ (think Bake Off judge dialling in) who can advise and give feedback. 

The pace is flexible – students complete their three hours of practical cooking tutorials per week at a time that suits – and the instructions are wide ranging, accompanied by step-by-step video tutorials. Sturdy wifi and a sturdier whisking hand for that hollandaise are strongly recommended.

At the end of the course, an extended cooking exercise – during which you’ll take photos of each step and send them to the teacher – will determine whether your skills have earned you the certificate of completion. Would-be masterchefs can opt to become fully accredited by attending a two-day practical assessment in person at Leiths cookery school (lockdown rules depending). Stephen Doig

£1,495 (plus £600 optional accreditation fee); 

Diamond grading

I can think of few better distractions from the news cycle than a deep-dive into the world of diamonds and gemstones. The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) has a wide range of resources available online for free – including issues of its quarterly journal, Gems & Gemology, dating back to 1934, and a digital library of books on gemology, minerology, gems and jewellery, including rare and historic books in the Cartier Rare Book Repository and Archives.

For those wanting to take their interest to the next level, the GIA offers distance education options on many of its courses, with students covering the same curriculum as they would on campus.

GIA diamond grading – Oli Scarff/Getty Images

The diamond grading course isn’t all razzle-dazzle: it’s a serious, scientific study of the art of assessing and grading the cut, colour and clarity of polished stones.

E-learning materials mean participants work through each module at their own pace – there’s a maximum of 15 months to complete the diamond grading course – with regular assessments and exams also completed online. Instructors are on hand to offer one-to-one support and guidance, and the resulting qualification is recognised worldwide. Sarah Royce-Greensill

Approximately £1,370;

Wine tasting

The empty shelves of off-licences across the country attest to the fact that many of us are conducting our own informal wine-tasting sessions during lockdown, but for something more educational, look to the online tastings conducted by West London Wine School.

West London Wine School – Jeff Gilbert

The school’s six-part History of Wine course takes enthusiasts on a historical and geographical journey from the origins of wine in Mesopotamia in 6,000 BC, through to modern-day winemaking in the UK and USA – via countries including Greece, Italy, France, Spain and Argentina.

Each 45-60 minute live online course is led by founder Jimmy Smith, whose enthusiasm, deep knowledge of the industry and pronunciation of obscure Georgian grapes make for an impressive evening’s entertainment. Recordings of each session are available to revisit afterwards.

West London Wine School – REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/File Photo

Focused more on history than tasting per se, attendees can listen along while enjoying the contents of their own cellars, or for the full experience order the corresponding 12-bottle case, with two wines to try each night. 

The school has also enlisted winemakers from around the world to host live, virtual tastings throughout April, with the corresponding wines available to order from Streatham Wine House.

For more experienced oenophiles, the school’s Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Awards vocational qualification can also be completed virtually. SRG

The six-week History of Wine course costs £50 and corresponding 12-bottle case costs £225; the Meet the Winemaker two-part tasting sessions costs £25, with corresponding six-bottle cases from £95;

Bread making

Founded in 2015, Learning with Experts offers virtual courses on everything from gardening and photography to floristry and cooking, with each course led by an expert in their field – including chocolatier Paul A Young, expert French baker Richard Bertinet, and BBC Good Food’s Barney Desmazery, whose Sourdough At Home masterclass I enrolled on.

Designed for complete beginners, the course is made up of four videos, kicking off with making and maintaining your starter. The lessons are easy to follow, and Barney explains everything in layman’s terms so even those with the most basic knowledge of bread making will be able to complete the course. Plus there are downloadable lesson notes to refer back to should you need. Participants must complete the assignment from each lesson in order to ‘unlock’ the next video.

There’s an interactive element too: each class includes a discussion section, in which you can message the teacher or other classmates. Groups are limited to 20 to ensure personal attention. When I was unsuccessful with my first assignment and my starter didn’t take, I asked Barney and the other students for some advice as to where I had gone wrong.

Both Barney and a classmate quickly responded and I was back on track to successfully completing my assignment and moving on to lesson two; basic sourdough. Barney encourages students to share photos and videos of their work-in-progress, meaning you feel determined to complete and improve on each assignment.

Learning with Experts Richard Bertine

Sourdough bread making is a long process that involves a lot of specific steps that you must follow down to the last milligram: while it’s possibly too convoluted for ‘normal’ life, I found it a great way to occupy my time, and mind, during this lockdown period. Helen Gibson

£109 per course;

Interior design

Lesson 1.4 in Rita Konig’s Create Academy course is:  “Don’t underestimate the home”. A mantra that is no more prevalent than now.

Rita Konig Create Academy

The Create Academy by London-based interior designer Rita Konig distills her decades of experience into 36 bite-sized lessons, each one 10 to 15 minutes long, in which she dispels advice on everything from how to dress a bed to the art of layering textiles, and where to focus your budget.   

Think of the course as more of a toolbox of skills for you to develop at home and apply to your own taste and aesthetic, rather than a series of “this goes with this” lectures. That said, for the best learning experience make sure you like Konig’s work (eclectic-English-country-comfort-meets-Stateside-polish) before undertaking the course.

The Create Academy focuses on her most personal renovations: her London flat and her country house, with accompanying documents detailing her favourite materials and suppliers.   

Rita Konig Create Academy

The course assumes some previous knowledge, with places like “Pimlico Road” and names such as “Francois Halard” thrown in to dialogue without much explanation, but on the whole the advice is fairly practical: where and how to buy antiques (especially at auction); putting colours together; framing and hanging paintings (“it’s all about finding the right wall, and scale”) are just three of the 36 online classes. The course can be revisited for life so any little tips and tricks can be refreshed when the time calls.

When under strict instructions to stay home, it’s worth making your surroundings as pleasurable as possible. And what better way to stop the walls closing in then switching up your interiors? And who says great taste can’t be taught? Sophie Warburton



With a 13-year-old girl and 12-year-old boy in the house, keeping everyone happy and entertained in a lockdown is a struggle. Of course, both kids would probably be perfectly content to spend the entire day communing with their phones but masochistically we’ve restricted them to an hour a day. What to do with the other 23? 

Over the past weeks, we’ve tried to make the most of the endless days with online yoga, running apps, Skype art lessons and touch-typing courses. Some, notably Yoga with Adriene and of course Joe Wicks, are a hit with the kids. Google hang-out French lessons with their grandmother perhaps less successful. And then I decided to try an online calligraphy course and see if that appealed. 

Imogen Owen is a pretty 39 year old who lives in rural Leicestershire with her dog, Pippin.  In between writing books on modern calligraphy and working for clients including Chanel and Fortnum & Mason, she has found time to develop an online calligraphy course making allowances for the most basic of beginners.

She does the courses from home, so there’s an intimacy about the lessons which feels very relaxed. When you sign up, she posts you a lovely little pack (or large pack, depending on the luxuriousness of the course you select) of pen, nib, ink, notebook and line guide. Once you’ve received your parcel, you’re good to go. 

Imogen Owen’s luxury calligraphy kit

Aside from the fact that there is no joy like opening new, good quality, stationery, the course is a success. The lessons are clear and not too painstaking. If you want to slow it down you just pause the video. And you move swiftly from simple mark making to whole words. Calligraphy hits a sweet spot between art and writing – you’re thinking about a meaning as much as you’re puzzling over how to shape the letters and how to link them to each other.

The hour or so every few days we devote to the new pasttime floats by in mindful meditation. And I saw with pleasure that the bin man, who braved the frightening new dangers of London’s streets to take our rubbish away, kept the carefully spelled out thank-you letter we left out for him using our new skills and put it in the front of the truck as he drove off. A worthy recipient of Imogen’s talents. Sasha Slater

From £85 including basic kit;

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