10 new hobbies to try in Essex in 2022

Two men swimming in a river

Ali James and Steve Parker took up wild swimming to connect with nature - Credit: Alexander Ward

As we usher in a new year, it’s time for trying new things. Bored of knitting? Julie Lucas discovers 10 new hobbies to discover in Essex this year...

Take a dip 
Ali James and Steve Parker took up wild swimming three years ago and have documented their journey on Instagram @2menswimming. ‘For us, it’s about just being in nature and taking time out from the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life,’ says Ali. They swim in the River Chelmer near Ulting, the Blackwater Estuary at Heybridge and Bradwell-on-Sea. ‘We got into wild swimming because we both enjoyed being outdoors and you couldn’t be more connected to nature than being submerged in a river. It was also the feeling it gives you afterwards, a natural high, especially when swimming through the winter. It’s a real reset and reboot. If you’ve had a stressful day or just need to offload, nature and cold water has a very special way of healing you mentally.’  

They recommend starting in the warmer summer months and acclimatising yourself. ‘Always go with someone, make sure the water is safe and clean, check the current isn’t too strong and have a safe entry point and exit point when swimming in a river. Always have your clothes and towel ready for when you get out, a hot drink and something sweet to eat and leave the area as you found it.'

For clubs, visit outdoorswimmingsociety.com 

Woman in Rock Choir

Singing is great for confidence building and has added health benefits - Credit: Tranquil Soul Photography

Sing, sing a song …. 
Rock Choir is the UK’s leading contemporary choir. There are no auditions, no need to read music and anyone with any level of musical experience can join. ‘We have had some amazing opportunities,’ says Adam Abo Henriksen, who runs choirs in the county including Braintree. This has included singing at the BBC Proms in Hyde Park and recording at Abbey Road Studios. Beyond the weekly rehearsals, members can choose to take part in as much or as little of the extra performances. ‘As soon as they feel confident enough to perform, they often sing at everything,’ explains Adam.  

‘Singing in a choir is great for building confidence, and works wonders for health and general well-being; just a search for the medical benefits shows the huge range of positivity it brings, covering everything from sleep, posture, the immune system, reducing anxiety and releasing endorphins. And of course, it’s also hugely social.  

‘I love hearing our new songs coming together each term; it’s all about singing, fun, community and friendship. Singing allows time to exist entirely outside of day-to-day pressures or stress, and the feeling of singing with other people is so uplifting and leaves a natural high, whatever the day has been otherwise.’  


The Andromeda Galaxy

Learn about what lies beyond our planet with North Essex Astronomical Society - Credit: Rob Davis

Look to the skies 
Look to the stars for this hobby and discover what is beyond our planet. The North Essex Astronomical Society welcome those from novice to expert - all you need is a fascination with astronomy. The club holds regular meetings at its observatory near Colchester. ‘This gives people a chance to get help and advice from others and to use the society's telescopes,’ says Clare Lauwerys. ‘The skies at the observatory are relatively free of light pollution, which is a real benefit for people. We also have a group of keen astro photographers who produce amazing photos.'    

You don’t need a telescope to get started, advises Clare, ‘A pair of binoculars is a lot cheaper and can take you a long way. Rather than spending and then getting buyer's regret, if you join a local astronomy group you can speak to other people and find the right telescope for you.  

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‘Why do we love it? There's the love of the science for some, for others it's the beauty of the night sky. It is always changing and each season brings something new. Take five minutes on a clear night to look up - as Prof. Brian Cox might say, “It's amazing.”’ 


Young woman practicing ballet exercises holding a wooden handrail

Lots of adults are starting ballet - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Plié please 
It’s not just for prima donnas, ballet attracts people of all ages and from all walks of life, and it's increasingly being rediscovered by adults. ‘It can be described as an unrequited love,’ says Theresa Crumb, a former member of the Royal Ballet School and principal of Ballet First. ‘Ballet has the advantage of working the entire body - developing stamina, balance, agility and flexibility, core abdominal strength and posture, as well as the mental application of the self-discipline and endurance needed. Ballet is also a great stress-reliever; it develops breath co-ordination and burns calories.’ 

Becky Scott did ballet as a child and rediscovered it as an adult. ‘I was doing Pilates and enjoyed pointing my toes,’ she laughs. Although she found it challenging at first, it has become a passion. ‘It’s a physical challenge and makes you so much more aware of your body. Ballet is a kind of mindfulness; it’s all consuming for one hour. It has helped me find mental wellbeing and I’ve made friends.’    

'The benefits are innumerable,’ says Theresa. ‘Ballet is for everyone, no matter what age, physical shape or condition you are in to begin with.'


Pilot in a plane

Kevin loves the freedom of flying - Credit: Anglian Flight Centres

Fly away!  
‘The attraction to flying is the sense of freedom,’ explains Kevin Barber, owner of Anglian Flight Centres. ‘On a clear day from Earls Colne you can see the outline of London and Sizewell power station. Another factor is that you can get to places a lot faster; I can fly from Earls Colne to Exeter where my daughter lives in under 1.5 hours. It is great to nip down to Exeter and see her for lunch, but still be back home in Essex by tea time.’    

Kevin took up flying after being given a trial flight as a present, and in 2018, he purchased Earls Colne Airfield. ‘There is no age limit for learning to fly. The only real requisite is that the person learning to fly is big enough to see out and reach the controls.’ For those wanting to get a private pilot’s licence, the minimum age is 17 years old with a minimum of 45 hours training time required. 

‘I still get that relaxed feeling just as you leave the ground, and I can often visualise all my problems remaining on the ground,’ says Kevin. ‘Landing after a pleasant flight, all those problems and worries that you left behind on the runway seem to somehow be not quite so bad and in a better perspective to deal with.'  


Archer Wendie King takes aim

Wendie King takes aim at the Commonwealth Archery Competition in Lilleshall - Credit: Malcolm Rees

Take aim
Master bowman Wendie King from Mayflower Archers in Billericay took up archery by chance. 'I was cajoled into doing it by my son,' she says. He was doing a beginner's course so Wendi went along too and was immediately hooked. 'Most people take up archery as a child, but for me at 42 it was a very late start.' Despite this, Wendie has gone on to shoot for England and was the first lady in Essex to achieve grand master bowman.

Rather than strength, archery is about the technique. Anyone wanting to take up the sport must do a beginner's course covering safety and the basics of the equipment to understand how it works. ‘You can't just shoot a bow anywhere; it has to be at a registered club, but equipment can be hired so people don’t have to rush into buying something,' she says. ‘I love it when I go over to the field and there is nobody else there. It's my happy place. Archery has helped me through some difficult times; it's helped me focus and given me a challenge. It's very competitive but outside of that it’s a lovely community.'


Woman smelling the leaves on trees

Ruth Mortimer harnesses the healing properties of nature with forest bathing - Credit: Marc Outten

Bathing in beauty
Forest bathing is an ancient Japanese relaxation practice known as shinrin-yoku. Simply put, it is spending time in the forest for better health, happiness and a sense of calm. 

Now a trained forest-bathing guide, Ruth Mortimer first found out about the practice accidentally whilst googling wellness activities in nature. She says, ‘I was recovering from a critical respiratory illness that left me having to completely rebuild my life. I found time in nature was the one place I could find some peace and calm, whilst walking and building up my strength.'

After her training, she now guides sessions throughout Essex. ‘It doesn't require any special skill; anyone can do it, anywhere, anytime,' Ruth explains. 'It's a really accessible form of meditation and mindfulness, using nature and our senses to reconnect to ourselves and the natural world. It feels natural, as we used to live in harmony with our green spaces. It develops a sense of kinship and love for wildlife and non-human beings. When we connect emotionally, we are more moved to protect something, so it's a reciprocal activity. It makes me feel connected to something bigger than myself, giving a sense of belonging and perspective.’ 


Frosty rose

Make memories with photography - Credit: Dave Deadman

Picture this
‘Photography is defined as any image copied using light,’ explains Dave Deadman of the Southend Photography Society. Members range from amateur to professional, or ‘anyone that can hold a camera,’ says Dave. Subjects can include anything from macro (extreme close up) to portrait and sports. ‘We have a very broad range of skills, covering everything in photography from studio work with the old-style chemicals, computing and Photoshop. Members can teach people how to use it and how to get the best out of a camera.’ 

Equipment can range from £100 to thousands. ‘You don’t need an expensive camera; you can have a phone,’ explains Dave. 'But the best way to learn photography is to play around with it.' 

‘I love the sociability, but generally it’s nice to see some something that nature has done, as we are a product of nature. If you can capture something that when somebody else looks at that picture it evokes a memory or image, that's very powerful. Although, if you like the picture, that’s all that matters. If anybody else likes it, it’s simply a bonus.’  


Young brunette woman in sportswear, practicing yoga asanas, performs cobra exercise in the park on a

Practising yoga can have both physical and mental benefits - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/SergeyChayko

And relax...  

‘Yoga ticks a lot of boxes,’ says Lucia Cockcroft, co-founder of Yoga at The Mill. ‘It can be great for weight-bearing and core strength, as well as for cardiac health, fitness and mental wellbeing. People don’t realise how beneficial it can be for our mental health in terms of destressing, relaxation and just getting away from the computer and emails for an hour.’

Lucia took it up in her mid-20s when she had lower back pain. Not being sporty, she found yoga ‘a little more forgiving’ and was hooked straight away. She teaches a more mindful approach to yoga and advises looking for small classes that can teach the basics of each posture - classes at Yoga at the Mill are capped at eight but they also do classes over Zoom. ‘It’s really important to find the right class and teacher for you and go at your own pace,’ says Lucia. Yoga spans the ages; the late American yoga teacher Tao Porchon-Lynch was still teaching into her nineties. ‘The benefits of regular yoga practise are priceless,’ adds Lucia.  


Oliver! Performed by Colchester Operatic Society

Put on a show with Colchester Operatic Society - Credit: Pamela Raith

Put on a show

‘We believe that theatre should be for anyone and everyone, whether performing or backstage,’ says Sally Cutchie of Colchester Operatic Society. The inclusive amateur dramatic group puts on musical theatre productions and concerts, and members can get involved in all aspects of a production, from singing and dancing to backstage, props, costume design and even marketing. 

Sally joined the society three years ago with a love of singing, although she found acting and dancing more of a challenge. ‘You gain incredible skills and confidence as well as bonds with the other members,’ she says. 'It’s like a second family and even though I haven’t performed in the last couple of productions, I am still involved in the marketing and events. It's lovely to still be part of the fun.’ 

Members range from those who are incredibly experienced and some who are just starting out. ‘We learn a lot from each other and getting involved in a show is always a positive and uplifting experience,' Sally says. The next production, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, will be performed January 27 - February 6