The Sydney Story Factory is an inspiring not-for-profit project to encourage in children a love of words, especially those aged 7-17 who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. It has come to existence because of the passion of two Sydney Morning Herald journalists – Catherine Keenan and Tim Dick. Based on Dave Eggers’s children’s writing centre in San Francisco, 826 Valencia, it already had a happy clone set up in London by Nick Hornby. You can read more about the Sydney Story Factory and the London and San Francisco efforts here and the article in the SMH about the launch published today.
I’ve been behind this project since I first heard about the call-out for people to get involved. The turnout to the first volunteers meeting was huge. Many more people came than I believe they expected and it wasn’t just ‘standing room only’, it was ‘sit, stand, squat, or just listen without being able to see’. And still people stayed to hear more and fill out the volunteer form.
So far I’ve been made a ‘vetted volunteer’ which means that I’ve attended a session to talk about the program and most importantly, to fill out the forms to enable a working with children check. Happily hearing I was in the ‘A –Team’ for training, I managed to be wiped out with the flu and missed out. I’ll make it to the next one, come hell or high-water!
Helping children to gain a love of words, to see them as their friends and entertainment has particular depth of meaning for me. I spent a lot of my childhood living in foreign countries where there was barely a program on TV in English. I can’t imagine what that nomadic life would have been like without books to take me to another world and letter writing to express myself. Remember letter writing? As we packed up and moved onto another country it was the letters to and from my school friends that kept me connected and helped ease the transition to being the ‘new kid on the foreign block’ once again. Ah letters, the original social networking!
If we can help children to engage with words, then we pave a path to a variety of future opportunities for them. I feel very strongly that projects like this one and any helping literacy in youth are imperative and I’m keen to get involved.
The launch yesterday on the last evening of the Sydney Writers Festival was a great milestone in the rapid progress of this program. Tim Dick started proceedings and then we had a Welcome to Country and Acknowledgment of Traditional Owners.
The Governor of NSW, Professor Marie Bashir AC, CVO gave a warm and clearly empathetic speech outlining the importance of literacy for children, and the importance of this project to changing the lives of those young people who don’t have all the advantages of those who attended this launch.
When Catherine Keenan spoke, she said “This is a writers festival. And I think to some extent every person here in this room is who they are today because of the world opened to us by reading and writing.” She was right, that IS why this project has received so much enthusiasm and support and offers of help.
Catherine also said “We will give children the tools to understand and engage with the world in new ways”.
Starting their programs this week, they will be going to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, in Waterloo and rolling out to other schools soon.
But before we all raise our glasses to what they are achieving, they need to raise $200,000 by July to get the Redfern Centre off and running. They are offering a variety of Membership/Donation package levels from $50 – ‘Storyline worker’; $100 ‘Fitter and page turner’, going up to $1000 for Membership including $950 donation giving you or your organisation the title of ‘Director, spare parts of speech’. Ahh, if ONLY I could afford that title!
Donate here, you’ll feel good if you do!
Author Markus Zusak is a Board Member and shared with us a story he wrote when he was 16. When he suggested this to Catherine he said “oh, it’s really embarrassing, really humiliating”. Catherine brightly said “that’s sounds perfect!” So in the spirit of The Sydney Story Factory he read the story, with the preface he was “promising to do the worst reading at the Festival, possibly in all the years of its existence!” Actually Marie Bashir kindly said afterwards it was really quite good! We all know of the huge success that Markus has enjoyed with his wonderful writing, and as the father of small children he too understands the importance of words, and how they can change our lives.
The Sydney Story Factory has the opportunity to engage with kids in a way that makes reading fun and allows them to see the outcome of their writing by printing books. Giving them a fun environment in which to learn is key to awaking their creative side – and I’m sure the Martian Embassy will help with that! For those of you who didn’t know…. my title at the launch was ‘Captain Radium of Mercury’, though I’m happy to be answer to just Captain!
If you are interested in finding out more about the background and inspiration then this page about The Sydney Story factory will give you all the answers.