When he saw an abandoned piano during the lockdown, a handyman at a center for youth at risk of homelessness promised to fuel his passion for music.
It was in late 2019 that Manwell Wilson began working as a handyman at a homeless center for young people in London, run by charities. Evolve housing and support.
As a former singer, one of the first things that caught her eye was the interest young people had in music. “I realized that every time I passed a person’s room, music was playing. Some of the guys were rapping, some were singing, but there was always someone doing something musical, “says Wilson, better known downtown as Manny.
“Music is a great medium to help and support people when it comes to mental well-being and I thought this was a great opportunity to do something that changes life.”
He had seen a broken and out of tune piano in the recreation room in the center of Stockwell, south London. Pushed against a wall, it was largely ignored in favor of the nearby punching bag, pool table, and ping-pong table. But it caught his attention and for the next several months, he set out to restore it.
“I bought a tuning kit, taught myself how to tune the piano, and fixed the broken parts. I made it work the best I could and it started to attract people, ”says Wilson. “Before the pandemic, I would sit and play music on my break. People would join me and ask me questions: it was great to see people wanting to participate and it started to pull people out of the isolation of their rooms. “
After a while, Wilson decided to buy a second-hand electronic keyboard and brought it downtown as well. More and more young people began to flock to the music sessions.
“I started giving lessons to some people and in the following months people started playing the piano as if they had been playing it for years. They had a real natural talent, “he says.
In early 2020, it was established that the project would be formally expanded with counselors and other colleagues coming together to support stakeholders. Support workers and counselors saw the impact music was having on these young minds and wanted to develop it.
“Many of these children have gone through impossible experiences in their life; in some cases, trauma. Having a musical outing has allowed them to talk about things that you wouldn’t believe. They have opened up about their life stories and how music is helping them. “
But in March 2020, things took an unexpected turn when England entered their first national lockdown. The difficult decision was made to suspend the project and temporarily close the social spaces to limit interactions. Wilson began to think of a new way to move the project forward. He decided to create a recording studio.
“Having a musical outing has allowed them to talk about things that you wouldn’t believe,” says Wilson.
“We only had a few pieces of equipment in the beginning: an electronic keyboard, an electronic drum kit, and some amps, but I knew we needed more by the time the lockdown ended. I envisioned a shared space, where people could come and express their creativity together, but for that we needed a better space. We had been using a part of the recreation room, but we needed a specific place that was free from interruptions and that we could soundproof. “
In the end, space was found in a staff room. Now Wilson and his colleague Glen plan to make the room completely soundproof. “What excites me the most is that young people decorate the room and make it their own, when it is safe to do so. I want them to feel at home when they enter the studio. I want them to be involved in all aspects, so that they feel that it belongs to them. “
I bought a tuning kit and taught myself how to tune the piano. I made it work the best I could and it started attracting people
During the third closure, he and the youth have stayed in contact to design and plan the study design. The next hurdle is the supply of equipment.
“We don’t have laptops, audio interfaces, microphones, guitars, or midi controllers,” says Wilson. There are people here who have their own YouTube channels, Soundcloud accounts and music videos and I want to put the studio in the best possible shape, so that I can support these young people in their future music careers. That is the vision. It is important for them to have hope ”.
Anyone interested in donating instruments and equipment, or helping fund the project, can email the organizers at email@example.com
Lead Image: Oleg Ivanov