DAve Eggers & 826 valencia
The Sydney Story Factory was inspired by 826 Valencia in San Francisco, a writing centre for young people founded by novelist Dave Eggers and educator Ninive Caligari in 2002. Dave Eggers discussed their concept in a deeply inspiring and hugely popular TedTalk.
826 was so successful that it soon went national across the USA. It has also inspired the opening of similar creative hubs all around the world. Other centres include The Ministry of Stories, in London, established with help from Nick Hornby, Fighting Words in Dublin, established with Roddy Doyle, and 100 Story Building in Melbourne.
The Sydney chapter
In early 2011, in response to growing community concern about literacy rates among marginalised children and limited creative opportunities in our schools, Fairfax journalists Cath Keenan and Tim Dick visited 826 Valencia to see whether their model could work here in Australia.
They spent a week learning about how 826 worked, and acting as volunteer writing tutors, then came home and consulted widely with educators, young people, parents, writers and the broader community. All were immediately enthusiastic, and with their input the model was modified to meet local needs.
The Sydney Story Factory was incorporated in February 2011 with a founding board that included Professor Larissa Behrendt, who lent her expertise in Indigenous education and more; and Professor Robyn Ewing AM, founding vice president. Robyn was instrumental in the set up process and beyond, providing expert education advice and hands-on support in areas from programming to evaluation.
A first volunteer meeting was held in April and 200 willing people turned up - a flash mob before flash mobs were even a thing. Support was garnered from prominent writers, including Peter FitzSimons and Markus Zusak. In May 2011, the Sydney Story Factory was launched by then Governor, Professor Marie Bashir, at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, to a capacity crowd.
Pilot programs began - the response was universally positive.
Then came work on the fit-out of premises - the one-of-a-kind Martian Embassy and Gift Shop - carried out by an extraordinarily generous number of businesses and organisations who offered their skills and services pro bono.
Eighteen months after the first germ of inspiration, in July 2012, the Sydney Story Factory was officially opened by Her Excellency, The Governor of NSW, Professor Marie Bashir at 176 Redfern St, Redfern.
Enduring THANKS to all our fitout partners who turned the Martian Embassy from a crazy, unlikely concept into a brilliant reality:
Cheapest Load of Rubbish
Sydney Fire Pty Ltd
Mid Coast Timber
Advance Epoxy Flooring
Brett Boardman Photography
The Glue Society
Berents Project Management
Good Neighbour Plumbing
Art of Tiles
Kevin O’Donnell and Drawing book
Building Services Engineers