A Home for Wonderland

This was the view from my van on the campsite the morning after I arrived in North Wales.

I recently went to North Wales for a long weekend and, on my way back, I drove past a disused Chapel for sale. When I got home I did a Google search and found a different Chapel for sale in the same area and that suddenly got my creative juices flowing. I could get funding, buy the Chapel, strip it and let the structure inform what is built inside. It could be a Wonderland that is weird and wonderful, built from recycled materials and not plastic-ey at all.

The porthole of my VW Caddy van

I have, inadvertently, tested this idea by converting my van, a tiny VW Caddy, which I bought last year, into a camper. I have poured my creativity into it. I stripped the interior, cut a hole in the roof and the side to install a skylight and a porthole, insulated it, laid the floor, made an extending bed with underneath storage, cut memory foam mattress into seat cushions and covered them in faux leather, cladded the sides and wallpapered and fitted plywood to the walls and ceiling, built cupboards, made and hung curtains, and there’s more to do but it’s nearly finished.

Finding out what works and what doesn’t by using the unfinished campervan.

I learn by doing and I go for weekends away in it so I can gauge what’s missing/superfluous or needs tweaking and, armed with this feedback, I come back to Brighton and make the changes. I have loved seeing this van transform over the months I have worked on it. It has kept me sane in times when life threw hard things at me. There’s something calming about repetitively measuring, cutting, sanding and screwing cladding to batons. Sometimes it’s been hard to work out how to do something because of the van’s curves, but there’re always ways and it just requires looking, or conversing, or doing and making mistakes.

Cutting a hole in the roof of the van for the skylight

Before working on this project I had never used a jigsaw or a drill and now I have no qualms about either – give me the metal roof of your van and I’ll happily, well, nervously cut a hole in it! This project has taught me that any problem can be solved in some way (although there may be compromises to be made) and I could not have seen the end result at the beginning, which is fortunate as that may have been overwhelming!

This van is like a tiny Tardis!

I think the principles I adopted for my van are important for Wonderland too. It would be great to find a disused building, preferably away from built up areas, that we (you, me and anyone who wants to get involved) can strip back to its shell and see how we can respond to the structure and location. I built my van bed from pallet wood I found and I’d like this ethos for Wonderland: recycling materials to build something weird and wonderful that will inspire a playful attitude and wonder without the use of plastics that are so common in children’s adventure playgrounds. Part of the fun in Wonderland will be the building of it and it doesn’t matter if you don’t have the skills to, say, cut wood; these can be taught (and you might discover you have a talent for it).


Could this Chapel house Wonderland?

This morning I went to The Good Business Club’s Pop Up Group Problem Solving Session and presented my challenge for Wonderland: do I do more testing for different user groups for Wonderland in different venues or do I go all out for finding a venue in a ‘build it and they will come’ type scenario? I shared my excitement over the Chapel in Wales and that the research I’ve done since then on buildings for sale in the Sussex countryside has shown it would be much cheaper to buy somewhere in Wales. I got some useful feedback and actions:

  • Start lean – spend time testing more before spending money.
  • Is the pop-up (testing) limiting?
  • Review who the customer is in Brighton vs. Wales
  • Can you access government money in Wales (to bring tourists to the area)?
  • Find properties and ask (locally/further afield) – focus on community building.
  • Understand customer (who/value they get) – where are they? Venue should be near them/accessible to them.
  • Spend more time on property search.
  • How much is refit of building?
  • Can you test “new locations” through partnerships (i.e Wilderness Wood)?
  • Connect with Nigel Berman (School of the Wild) – event 23rd May.
  • Run as a project for a set period of time – can you get funding (maybe during Brighton Fringe)?
  • Find investor who buys into dream.

The two actions I chose are to research the Brighton/Wales customer markets and whether there is government funding available in Wales.

If Wonderland was in Wales, people could visit for longer than a day – there could be residential long weekend and week retreats, filled with wonder, play, making connections, wonder walks, coaching, healthy food, fire, storytelling, planning hopes and dreams, making art and inspiration.

I think I may need to do more than two of the actions from the Problem Solving Session. I may need to test out some of my Wonder activities in woodland somewhere… What do you think?


A New Wonderland

Image from:

When I came up with Wonderland thirteen years ago it was not an original idea, as you can tell from the name. It was an amalgamation of some of my favourite things from childhood books, ways of playing and, as I got older, activities and ideas I became interested in. Ultimately, I wanted it to be a place that offered respite from worry, permission to play with childlike glee, and opportunities to imagine wonderful things you could do with your life. It was a place that you visited by invitation, for free, and you would leave with new friends, who you could contact regularly and you could remind each other of your time at Wonderland. It was my gift to the world.

If only the worlds in books could exist

My original Wonderland stole ideas from Roald Dahl – a golden invitation would arrive on your doormat, inviting you to Wonderland; C.S. Lewis – there would be a massive wooden wardrobe somewhere in Wonderland, where, if you dared to look inside and venture through, you would arrive in a snow covered land that had hidden caves where you could make things; Lewis Carroll – the name and sense of having left ‘reality’ for a while; and Enid Blyton – in the middle of Wonderland would be a tree, like the Magic Faraway Tree, that you could climb up, and at the top, you could climb a little ladder to access a secret world that would be different every week (people in wheelchairs could be winched up to the land).

Wonderland could be like this but much bigger! Image from:

In addition to these childhood dreams, I wanted Wonderland to have over-sized slides, climbing frames, swings, bouncy floors, ball pits and everything children get to play on at indoor adventure playgrounds. I remembered when my son was little and I took him to Pirates Deep in Brighton, and I would go around the adventure playground with him, enjoying it as much as he did.

More recently I studied moving image at university, got into climbing, began converting a van into a camper van thereby discovering the joys of woodwork, tried some community gardening, read about bio dynamic farming, attended courses on trauma sensitive yoga, and I could imagine all these things and more happening at Wonderland. It somehow became more of a community centre than a secret place you get invited to visit once for an amazing, life-changing experience.

Living within a capitalist society made it hard, as far as I could see, for me to offer Wonderland as a gift, and I attended workshops and courses at Brighton University to help me shape Wonderland into a social enterprise business. I learnt about Minimum Viable Products, lean start ups, and testing ideas to see if they are wanted/needed/will grow. I pruned Wonderland back to three things, which I called the essence, so that I could test the idea of an indoor adventure playground for grown ups for viability:

  • Leave your grown up worries at the door
  • Share your hopes and dreams
  • Play with childlike glee

I ran the first Wonderland event in February 2019, based on this essence, at Funplex, Brighton, an indoor adventure playground for children. Twenty one people came; at the end they gave feedback that they’d all come again and said they felt better than when they’d arrived. This spurred me on to run another event at Funplex, which is on 4th April. You can buy tickets here. This time, I’m curious to see the ratio of new people to those re-attending, what people get from re-attending, and whether all attendees feel better after a Wonderland session.

I feel a conflict between the original idea and the reality of the events I’ve created to test the idea. The point of Wonderland was that it’s free to attend so selling tickets to potential attendees is missing that point. How can I make it free to attend? What if Wonderland is a time-limited pop-up, with arts and business funding to make it available to the local community? It could be a six month (or less) project where we rent a building and invite local artists, craftspeople and the local community to build Wonderland so that grown ups will have things to swing, slide, climb and jump on, and spaces to be quiet and full of wonder or draw and share their hopes and dreams. It could be built on the original Wonderland values of zero waste, recycling materials, and healthy food.

Image from:

Once Wonderland is built, all the adult residents of Brighton could receive a personal invite to come to Wonderland, regardless of socioeconomic status. They could phone the number on their ticket to arrange their visit. On the back of their ticket, it could say, “this is especially for you if you’re feeling lonely, alone, isolated, unworthy, unhappy or anything other than content. We know how that feels and you are under no pressure to change. Come and see what Wonderland is like. You don’t have to stay, but you can if you want to.” I love this idea! It connects with both artist and social entrepreneur in me. We could take it to other towns and cities and run six month projects there too.

So, now I have reconnected with the original sense, purpose, and wonder of Wonderland, what’s next?

  • I’ll carry on running the events at Funplex if people continue to buy tickets. They give people the opportunity to experience leaving their worries at the door, playing with childlike glee and sharing their hopes and dreams – have you seen the video of the February event (above)? Check it out! And buy some tickets for the April event!
  • I’ll get some advice on how to go about setting up this art/social enterprise version of Wonderland. I’m seeing Ruth Anslow of The Good Business Club and HisBe next week so perhaps she’ll be able to point me in some helpful directions.
  • I can ask you some questions! What do you think of the different versions of Wonderland? Do you want to help with the time-limited, community build Wonderland? Who do you know who can and would like to help? Please do feel free to contact me 🙂