In December 2010, Tim Dick and Catherine Keenan, then journalists at The Sydney Morning Herald, watched Dave Eggers’ deeply inspiring TED talk about 826 Valencia a writing centre for young people in San Francisco. In January 2011, they made the decision to set up a similar writing centre in Sydney.
The Sydney Story Factory was incorporated in February 2011. We held our first volunteer meeting in April and 200 willing people turned up. Later that month, Dick and Keenan attended a course at 826 Valencia, about how to set up and run an organization like 826. With pro bono help from respected creative collective The Glue Society and input from local young people and volunteers, we decided that our shop would be The Martian Embassy and Gift Shop.
Support was also garnered from prominent writers, including Anna Funder, Malcolm Knox, Peter FitzSimons and Markus Zusak. In May 2011, the Sydney Story Factory was launched by the Governor, Professor Marie Bashir, at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, to a capacity crowd.
Pilot programs began at Our Lady of Mt Carmel, Waterloo, in the same month, with our first band of brave volunteers. In Terms 3 and 4, programs were expanded to Alexandria Park Community School and Tempe Public School, which have high populations of students from Indigenous or non-English speaking backgrounds. Feedback from students, teachers, parents and volunteers was overwhelmingly positive.
By July 2011, 100 tutors had been vetted and trained and were ready to start tutoring. In September, a lease was taken on premises at 176 Redfern Street, Redfern, to house the writing centre and shop. The fit-out began in April 2012 and the creation of this amazing space is another story in itself, see below for more details!
The Sydney Story Factory and the Earth’s first Martian Embassy and Gift Shop will be officially opened by Her Excellency, The Governor of NSW, Professor Marie Bashir on July 21. Classes begin straight after that.
ABOUT OUR PREMISES
When we decided to open The Sydney Story Factory we knew two things. One, that we wanted it to look so amazing that kids would be excited just to walk in the door. Two, that we had very little money. Thanks to the extraordinary kindness of many people and companies, we managed to get one despite two.
The story of the building of the Sydney Story Factory and The Martian Embassy and Gift Shop is a story of generosity and vision. It is a story about how one creative act leads to another. And it is a story of people and companies doing truly inspiring work, and inspiring others to do the same.
We send the following companies a heartfelt, Mars-sized thank you.
DESIGN AND CONCEPT
The Glue Society
Berents Project Management
Good Neighbour Plumbing
Art of Tiles
Kevin O’Donnell and Drawing book
Building Services Engineers
Cheapest Load of Rubbish
Sydney Fire Pty Ltd
Mid Coast Timber
Advance Epoxy Flooring
Brett Boardman Photography
Above photos by Brett Boardman