Evolve Housing and Support is a London based charity that provides a range of services to the city’s homeless and vulnerable populations. The shelters that are operated by Evolve try and create an environment that facilitates not just the physical wellbeing of their occupants, but also their mental emotional wellbeing. Manwell “Manny” Wilson started working as a handy man at one of Evolve’s homeless shelters towards the end of 2019.
One of the things Manny noticed while working around the shelter was unifying interest the residents had in music. Speaking to POSITIVE NEWS, Manny Said:
“I noticed whenever I walked past a person’s room there was music playing. Some of the guys were rapping, others were singing but someone was always doing something musical.”
That’s when he also noticed an abandoned piano in the corner of the shelter and got the idea to bring it out into the main area and see if anyone would be interested in it. Sure enough, the piano started attracting more and more attention. Since it was so worn down and out of tune, Manny made it his personal mission to have the piano restored to proper working order.
Being lover of music himself and a former singer, he already had a great ear for music:
“I bought a tuning kit, taught myself how to tune the piano and fixed the broken parts. I got it to work as best as I could, and it started to attract people,” says Wilson. “Before the pandemic I would sit down and play music on my break. People would join me and ask me questions: it was great to see people wanting to get involved and it started to bring people out of the isolation of their rooms.”
Soon Wilson had purchased an electric piano so that more young people could participate at once in the music sessions.
“I started to give lessons to a few individuals and in the next few months people began playing the piano as if they had been playing it for years. They had a real natural talent,” he says.
“A lot of these kids have been through impossible experiences in their life; in some cases, trauma. Having a musical outlet has allowed them to talk about things you wouldn’t believe. They’ve opened up about their life stories and how the music is helping them,” Wilson says.
Counsellors at the shelter were seeing the huge impact the music sessions were having on the residents, so they started working on a plan to formalize a music program within the center. But in March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic brought these plans to a halt when England entered it’s first lockdown. As a result, many of the social spaces at Evolve’s homeless centers were shutdown to reduce the spread of germs.
But Wilson wasn’t about to let all the progress he’d made with his kids go to waste, so he got to thinking and decided to create a recording studio, which would allow the young people a way to express themselves musically, especially during the emotional toil the lockdown would take on everyone.
“We only had a few pieces of equipment in the beginning: an electronic keyboard, electronic drum kit and a few amps, but I knew we needed more for when 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 portion of the rec room, but we needed a specific place that was free from interruptions and that we could soundproof.”
That space was eventually found in a staff room and the plan is to completely soundproof the room. He’s also looking forward to seeing the young people express their creativity in decorating the room and making the space their own. For now though, Wilson and the youth are working together on design ideas for the studio layout, and are looking forward to the day they can safely see their dream come to life.
When asked what his ultimate vision for the studio is, Wilson shared that he hopes the music program will help launch careers in music for those interested in pursing music professionally:
“We don’t have any laptops, audio interfaces, mics, 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 get the studio in as best a shape as it can be, so I can support these young people with their future musical careers. That’s the vision. It’s important for them to have hope.”
Anyone interested in donating instruments and equipment, or in helping to fund the project can email organizers on [email protected]