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It's a Wonder Full Life

As soon as you enter Manchester’s Wonder Inn, it’s instantly apparent why so many people are determined to ensure that the place sticks around for a long time to come.

The venue is the realised dream of internationally acclaimed musician Kirsty Almeida, whose enthusiasm and love shines through as she tells me what the Wonder Inn is all about. “It’s a space devoted to the nurture of wellbeing and creativity, a place to make people feel better about themselves. We’ve hosted hundreds of beautiful and unique events, and with an amazing team of volunteers behind us we pour our profits back into the project and community. The Earth is also always at the centre of our choices.” They even plant a tree for every ticket bought to their events.

It’s been open for a year now, but sadly its future is under threat, unless money can be raised in time to cover legal fees to fight the revocation of the initial seven-year lease. So far, they’ve raised an impressive £4,000 in just 11 days, which isn’t through crowd funding or investment, Kirsty tells me. People are donating purely for their love of the place. This seems to go hand-in-hand with the whole ethos – that it’s created and enhanced by the people who love and use the space. But there’s still a way to go. £10,000 is needed in total, but Kirsty is staying positive. “We are more determined than ever to ensure this project stays alive. In return for donations, we would like to hold a huge Wonder Inn Ball to say a gigantic thank you, regardless of the outcome.”

Even the start of the project was almost organic. While refurbishing a nearby bar, Kirsty used to walk past the building every day, wondering what it was and why such a beautiful old building was standing empty. It was like the building called to her. Even as we are chatting, passers-by stop to take photos of its exterior, unable to walk past without capturing a part of the beauty. Kirsty tells me this happens all the time. “I love when they do that. The building just draws people in.”

Kirsty’s vision for the place evolved from a book she created by noting down all the elements she thought would make the perfect venue, drawing inspiration from venues she’s seen all over the world, from Moscow to New York. “We started with nothing and no money – just a whole head of passion.” Donations from the community helped to shape the venue, from old church chairs to pianos and, perhaps most oddly, 180 Edwardian style umbrellas, a selection of which are now adorning the downstairs cafe area. It’s these unique touches that created a beautifully cosy interior, as the artists in the space were able to use their lifetime of experience to transform and ‘upcycle’ all donations, making the ordinary into something special. Even the mop has been crafted from what appears to have been a tree branch.

Regular events include unusual delights like face yoga and reggae yoga, mbira lessons (an African musical instrument consisting of a wooden board with metal prongs), a jazz night and a new open mic night with Gideon Conn. They regularly host a range of musicians for small gigs or album launches, with all three floors available for any creative, artistic or holistic use. “The wonderful thing is that no event looks the same. The building is a blank canvas, an ever changing gallery, and each different event seems to honour the building and shape its use accordingly. You can’t get much different than a one-day yoga retreat and Kendrick Lamar coming in to work with young musicians, but the building was equally perfect for both. I am blown away constantly by how well the space lends itself to music artists, and I love seeing their response as they play to what feels like a festival audience. At the weekend, we held an intergenerational party with Project Better Days and it was amazing to see people of all ages and backgrounds coming together. What started with my two-year-old son on the dance floor ended up with a spontaneous, full-scale gospel choir performance. Who couldn’t love that?”

When asked about plans for the future, Kirsty gives me a look that says, ‘how long have you got?’ before reeling off a host of exciting new ideas. “We’re working on a lot of collaborations. One idea is to hold events that will turn the whole building into a festival within a building – music festivals or mind, body and spirit festivals, for example, and retreats too.” The cafe space isn’t yet fully open, although delicious-looking homemade foraged soup and rolls are often on offer, but the plan is to host weekly pop-ups serving local, wholesome, organic food. They’re in the middle of an Arts Council bid to turn the backroom into a children’s cafe and hope to create an outdoor space. “One thing I’m really excited about is working with the Gaskell Garden Project, who support refugees to integrate in the community. They will be coming in to grow and build things. It’s such a beautiful project.

“It’s wonderful that we created so much with nothing and grew from the smallest beginnings to what we have now. It’s madness – beautiful madness! Everyone is welcome here. It really is for everyone and anyone to get involved and become a part of.”

You can help by contributing on the Wonder Inn Go Fund Me page.

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