A New Wonderland

Image from: https://www.hercampus.com/school/uab/holiday-gift-giving-guide

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: https://www.timeout.com/new-york-kids/things-to-do/50-things-to-do-in-the-winter-with-kids-in-nyc

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: https://www.theboxmag.com/box-blogs/the-golden-ticket

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 🙂