I was excited to read in Saturday’s Spectrum (SMH, February 26-27, 2011) about the Sydney Story Factory, an initiative started by Sydney Morning Herald journalists Catherine Keenan and her colleague Tim Dick to improve literacy levels among kids.
The Sydney Story Factory centre aims to be a place for children to come develop their love of words, with volunteer tutors offering free, one-on-one help with English homework and any writing project they wish to work on. They will also go into schools to give extra help during English classes.
It is based on a similar centre called the 826 Valencia project started in the US by the author Dave Eggers. The premises chosen by Eggers was zoned for commercial use so they opened a pirate warehouse.
Since then each new centre has opened with a shop attached. The Sydney one, to be based in Redfern, will feature a fantastical shop.
“It was just a requirement and a bit of a gag,” says Keenan, “but it became an incredibly important part of the operation because for the kids to get to the centre they have to walk through the shop so by the time they get to the centre they know they are not in school, they know they are in a place where everyday rules do not apply and imaginations run wild.”
Seven more centres have since opened across the US, in cities including San Francisco, Brooklyn and New York and last year 5000 volunteers helped 24,000 kids. In November last year Nick Hornby opened the first one in London called The Hoxton Street Ministry of Stories with a store selling Monster Supplies.
The concept is based on two very simple ideas – that good writing skills are essential for a successful life and that great leaps in learning are made with one-on-one attention.
The kids’ stories will be distributed on the centre’s website, published in zines and a collection will be published in book form annually with a forward by a prominent writer.
Since launching the concept two months ago the Sydney Story Factory has attracted 130 volunteers and support from leading Australian authors including David Malouf, Kate Grenville, Tom Keneally, Gail Jones, Malcolm Knox and James Bradley.
If you are interested in volunteering at the Sydney Story Factory, see sydneystoryfactory.blogspot.com. Also see 826valencia.org and 826national.org.
‘Young writers see the light’, Sydney Morning Herald, Spectrum, February 26-27, 2011.