Visiting the Ministry of Stories

I’ve already posted about my visit to Discover Story Centre just over a week ago, but during the afternoon of the same day I attended a brilliant workshop at the Ministry of Stories in East London.

Entitled ‘Inside the Ministry’, the aim of the workshop was to share with attendees how they’d progressed their project from an initial idea supported by just a few keen, talented individuals to a hugely successful venture that is working with a great number of children in their three local boroughs and is staffed (in the main) by a troupe of dedicated volunteers.  We were then given the chance to tell people about our own projects and to brainstorm possible ways forward as a group.

The Ministry of Stories is, to quote their website, “…a creative writing and mentoring centre for young people in East London.”  The founders, Lucy Macnab and Ben Payne (along with the author, Nick Hornby) were inspired by a visit to Dave Eggers’ 826 Valencia in San Francisco.  Due to planning restrictions placed on the building they’d chosen, the team in the USA had to use it for retail as opposed to it establishing it as purely for education.  They decided to create a very narrow shop front, selling supplies for pirates – how completely awesome!  A secret passageway led children to the writing centre beyond.

Although this ‘shop’ was legitimately selling ingenious solutions to the modern pirate’s daily dilemmas, it was never meant to be any more than a means to circumvent council bureaucracy.  However, the children seemed to respond to the atmosphere created by this entrance to their own ‘Narnia’ and the founders also discovered that they had an increasing consumer base for their pirate wares.  Therefore, given that the original aim (supporting students’ writing skills and involvement with literacy) had also been successful, the model was used in other cities across the USA (with the different store-fronts pitching themselves not only to pirates, but also to time-travellers, superheroes and so on.  Very Very Cool!).

When Lovely Lucy and Brilliant Ben (who could not have been kinder hosts to those of us visiting the Ministry) decided to set up the Ministry of Stories, they came up with the concept of ‘Hoxton Street Monster Supplies‘ as their shop-front, which is such a fun idea (and encouraged me to spend a few pennies for my boys on these…)

Just take a look at these enticing displays:

And this sign, which sits outside the entrance to the shop:

I would have LOVED to visit somewhere like this as a child (I enjoyed it VERY much even as an adult) and the fact that it is serving as a frontage for a writing centre makes it doubly amazing.  How cool is this little piece of artwork, just casually painted onto one of the pillars in the ‘educational’ part of the building?!

Despite the fact that I probably came across as quite a quiet member of the group (note to self: Be A Bit Braver in situations like this.  No-one will think you look stupid just because you have an idea that isn’t quite perfected yet) I took SO much away from this workshop and am so grateful to Lucy and Ben for sharing their time and ideas with us.  As per my Discover-y post, I’m going to list the things that most stuck with me as I scribbled down my thoughts on the train journey home.

  • I need for formulate my ‘matchbox’ proposition.  My husband read somewhere that you should be able to summarise your proposal for a business / project / etc. on the back of a matchbox and if you can’t then it’s too waffly. I’m sure it’s not actually necessary to prove this, but when we all introduced ourselves at the start of the session (‘breaking the ice’ is the most dreaded part of any new situation for me) I realised that I need to be able to share the premise of Story Seekers more quickly and clearly.
  • I need to be more confident in sharing my ideas.  I’ve recently read ‘Happier At Home‘ by Gretchen Rubin and can definitely identify with her advice to ‘Find your own Calcutta’, in other words, find the project that YOU want to pursue and that means something to YOU and then confidently and wholeheartedly work on that.
  • When it comes to funding (obviously I’m not expecting to get any for the baby and toddler classes part of Story Seekers, but perhaps for the festival or to enable me to take the ideas into children’s centres and schools), it’s best to remain true to your vision and then seek out funding sources or investors who believe in it as well.  It’s tempting to try and reframe your project to fit funding that you know is available, but this doesn’t benefit anyone in the end.
  • As someone who constantly doubts myself, it was weirdly encouraging to hear that the founders of something as amazing as the Ministry of Stories had felt the same way.  They had a model on which to base themselves (and I look to great ventures such as Bookhappy Ltd (@BookhappyLtd) and Story Explorers (@StoryExplorers) as shining examples of how ideas similar to Storyseekers have really taken off), but despite this, they constantly questioned themselves and worried about whether enough people would ‘get’ what they were trying to achieve.  It paid off for them, so maybe it could for me as well?  I know I have to forge my own path, but it’s helpful to have the guidance of others occasionally.
  • It was lovely to meet other people who are equally as passionate about literature and creativity for children and its power to change lives.

Thanks again to Lucy and Ben for such a thought-provoking afternoon.  If you live nearby and you’re keen to support the brilliant work that the Ministry of Stories is doing, you can find out more here about how to get involved as a volunteer.


One comment

  1. Gosh, I wish I had been able to attend this session, it sounds wonderful!

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