Cash’s Story

The moment you walk into Redfern’s Jarjum College you can see the evidence all around you that this is a special place. The iconic statue of Mum Shirl guards the doorway, and the smell of frying onions from the kitchen floats past.

Redfern Jarjum College is a school for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who are not flourishing in mainstream primary schools, as a result of their domestic circumstances. 

Story Factory has been working there with a Year 3 and 4 class, led by our Storyteller and Speech Pathologist Tommie and a brilliant group of volunteers, their teacher, an Aboriginal Community Liaison Officer and occasionally parents, in supporting a group of very busy 8 – 10 year olds in writing about food.

In this small group our student Cash stands out because of his boundless enthusiasm. Cash is always eager to share his work, and to verbalise his ideas, but his challenge is getting those ideas onto the page and actually writing.

Our Food Glorious Food creative writing program has been perfect for Cash, focussing his amazing imagination onto writing down his ideas, using prompts about listing favourite flavours and imagining crazy new taste sensations.

Tommie says, “Cash’s enthusiasm for the workshops helped direct how the other kids responded, making it fun and cool to write.”

Tommie was particularly impressed that Cash was able to lead the group in sharing ideas and modelling what enthusiastic participation looked like, coming up with the brilliant idea to create disgusting ice cream flavours, which his classmates enthusiastically endorsed. They came up with some truly foul concoctions including: ‘oil paint, ‘shattered glass’ and ‘poopy smudge’!

We asked Cash what he liked best about the workshops with Story Factory: “That you can make up imaginary stuff. I feel happy writing stuff,” which is an excellent start to Cash realising his life’s ambition – to become a rapper.

“I know I really want to be a rapper but I don’t know yet what else I should be. I love TuPac. And Biggie.”

When we asked him what he was proudest of this term, Cash immediately answered, “once I did a whole piece of paper, you had to do it in one minute and I did it in half! So it was paper about this big [throws his hands wide] and I did the questions THAT fast!” – phew, that’s fast!

We can’t wait to start back with Redfern Jarjum College again this term and see what else Cash and the gang come up with.

Cash (front) and a buddy proudly displaying their writing.

My Ice-Cream Store! – by Cash 

I am Cash,I run Cash’s ICE CREAM STORE
there are flavours in my freezer
you have never seen before!
eight amazing creations
too delicious to resist
why not do yourself a favour,
try the flavours on my list: 
rat poop
cockroach
licking hairy legs
man poop
bug poop
rat and bat poop
rat vomit
poop and pee.

– From our ‘Food, Glorious Food’ creative writing program

STORY FACTORY  AUCTION  TO FEATURE LEADING AUSTRALIAN  ARTISTS  AT THE OLSEN GALLERY

Exhibition to raise funds for creative writing programs for children from under-resourced communities.

Over 40 of Australia’s leading contemporary  artists  will donate artworks to the Story Factory fundraising exhibition and  auction  held at the Olsen Gallery this April. The exhibition will include artworks by Guy Maestri, Stephen Ormandy, Euan Macleod, Louise Olsen, Fiona Lowry, Chris Langlois, Blak Douglas and Leila Jeffreys. Story Factory thanks all participating artists and their families. 

All proceeds go to the Story Factory.

The exhibition will run from Tuesday 6 April – Saturday 10  April at  the Olsen Annexe, 74 Queen Street, Woollahra. The selection of artworks for sale in the online  auction  can be viewed here. Place your bids now!

Louise Olsen, ‘Dream Garden’

Kurt Breteton, ‘Coral’

Cancelled a week out in March 2020 when the pandemic hit, the  art  auction  is Story Factory’s opportunity to raise critical funds to run creative writing workshops across Sydney for more than 5,000 students every year.

COVID-19 has caused the existing educational gap of three years between advantaged and disadvantaged students to widen. This exacerbation of existing inequalities highlights the need for Story Factory’s programs that re-engage students in their learning and improve educational outcomes.

Artist  Telly Tu’u, who has donated work to the  auction, says  “I’ve been there, I know what it is like to walk into a classroom and not understand what the teacher is talking about. I’d sit at the back to avoid being asked questions.  It’s a privilege to be able to empower children from multi-lingual families, through the efforts and work of the Story Factory.”

You can bid on an artwork at the link above or visit the Olsen Annexe between 6-10  of April. All proceeds from this year’s  auction will be used to support the creativity and literacy of young people who are  Indigenous, from language backgrounds other than English, from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, or under-resourced in other ways.

Artists  participating in the  online auction:

Margaret Ackland

Svetlana Bailey

Jason Benjamin

Stephen Bird

Kurt Brereton

Keith Burt

Tom Carment

Paul Connor

Claudia Damichi

Michael Fitzjames

Becky Gibson

Melinda Harper

Leila Jeffreys

Locust Jones

Robert Klippel

Jasper Knight

Chris Langlois

Owen Leong

Fiona Lowry

Dean Manning

James McGrath

Heather Mitchell

Antonia Mrljak

Susan O’Doherty

Louise Olsen

Stephen Ormandy

Jess Orrego

Philjames

James Powditch

Marisa Purcell

Olivier Rasir

Peter Simpson

Telly Tu’u

Louise Tuckwell

Chris Van Otterloo

Zoe Young

Artists participating in the live auction

Blak Douglas

Euan Macleod

Guy Maestri

Peter O’Doherty

Thanks also to donations from Margot McKinney, Julia Baird, Leigh Sales, Leta Keens, Michael Gonski, Riptide Prints and Oscar & Friends Booksellers

Hello Nick!

We’re lucky at Story Factory to have a talented and supportive Board, where all members are committed to spreading the power of creative writing. So we’re thrilled to welcome to the Board – Nick Carney.

Nick is a Partner at Herbert Smith Freehills specialising in infrastructure and government services. He has deep experience advising government on complex procurements, including in relation to social and affordable housing, health services and transport infrastructure.

He recently retired from the University of New South Wales Council after 11 years. He sat on a number of committees including the Risk Committee (as chair), the Fundraising Campaign Cabinet and the 2025 Strategy Committee.

In 2012 Nick was awarded a National Volunteer Award (Education category) for the electorate of Sydney for establishing a scholarship and mentoring program for disadvantaged young people between Herbert Smith Freehills and the Come-In Youth Resource Centre in Paddington. This program continues to run and has had over 100 young people participate.

YAYYY Ryan Shelton

Before 2021, we knew Ryan Shelton as officially A Funny Guy and very good buddy of and collaborator with Hamish and Andy.

Recent events have enhanced our understanding of Ryan to include the following:

  • Ryan is busy. When he’s not hosting radio shows, filming and producing TV programs or writing comedy, he’s making podcasts – specifically The Imperfects which he co-hosts with Hugh van Cuylenburg from The Resilience Project. We’ve been listening and we can emphatically recommend this podcast, which explores honesty, empathy and resilience. Three of our favourite things.
  • Ryan is very funny indeed. His Instagram account is an absolute tonic.

But most significantly for Story Factory…

  • Ryan is generous. After hearing about the educational disaster the events of 2020 have been for students from under-resourced communities, he wanted to help. He donated 100% of the proceeds from the sale his hilarious and stylish merch – Yarn – to Story Factory.

Generosity like this needs to be celebrated, so we asked Ryan if he minded if we shared this story (thanks Ryan).

His act of generosity is powerful in a number of ways. The money he donated has an immediate practical impact – funding creative writing workshops that help engage kids with their education and with their own imaginations.

It also helped get the word out about Story Factory and the important work we do to a new audience.

But crucially, it lets our students know they matter and that even famous comedians care about what they have to say.

In a world where bad news often dominates, we’re thrilled to share this bit of official good news.

Welcome Amy!

We’re thrilled to welcome academic and legend Amy Thunig to the Story Factory board.

Amy Thunig is an academic in the Department of Educational Studies at Macquarie University, where she is also undertaking a PhD in education with a focus on Sovereign/Indigenous women in academia.

A Gomeroi/Gamilaroi/Kamilaroi woman, Amy began her journey into formal education as a Primary School teacher, attaining a Masters Degree in Teaching before moving into her academic role.

In 2019 Amy was invited to give her TEDx talk ‘Disruption is not a dirty word’ and in 2020 signed her first publication deal for her forthcoming book ‘Tell Me Again’ with University of Queensland Press (UQP).

A freelance media writer and panellist, Amy writes for publications such as Buzzfeed, Sydney Book Review, IndigenousX, The Guardian, Junkee, Women’s Agenda. 

Amy is also the founder and host of the podcast ‘Blacademia: yarns with First Nations/Indigenous academics’ and regularly appears on programs such as ABC’s The Drum to discuss education, politics, and Indigenous-specific matters.

We’re delighted to have her experience on perspective on the team!

Welcome Amy!

Introducing our 2021-23 Strategy

Story Factory strategy documents are essentially three-act stories: a snapshot of the past, a stocktake of our present, and our hopes and goals for the future. When Story Factory put together its last strategy, however, none of us could have anticipated how the future would’ve turned out. Coronavirus was the big twist – the Darth Vadar reveal; the Red Wedding; discovering Bruce Willis is a [redacted]! – no one saw coming. (Well, no one except expert virologists and epidemiologists we all probably ignored for decades.)

As a result, 2020 presented huge challenges for parents, guardians, teachers and students alike. However, Story Factory was up for meeting the challenge, and forged new ways to foster literacy, confidence and creativity in young people – within strange new parameters. We delivered programs and workshops digitally. We continued to collaborate with schools when we could. We kept publishing kids’ original stories. Which is to say, Story Factory adapted, evolved and grew. All crises are opportunities, and the pandemic delivered Story Factory an opportunity for our entire community to discover new ways to teach and learn.

Now we get to look forward to 2021 and beyond. Thrillingly, Story Factory now has two sites in Redfern and Parramatta, both of which are parts of a bigger network connecting kids through centres and schools across New South Wales, in person and online. And we cannot wait to welcome our legion of volunteers back, to again work alongside the kids and teenagers who matter most.

Story Factory’s work has never been more important. With Covid-19 delays estimated to have set back kids in New South Wales several months with their education, we are more determined than ever to engage kids with their creativity, writing and literacy. We are ready to help expand their minds with lessons, workshops and programs that ignite their imaginations, pump up their communication skills and get them solving problems creatively. By getting involved and supporting us through your time or money, you’re supporting that mission.

Like the kids and teenagers at Story Factory, the adults at Story Factory – staff, volunteers and the board – love stories too. We especially love tales about big challenges, overcoming the odds and bringing people together. But our absolute favourite stories involve visions of the future.

Here’s ours.

Benjamin Law
Journalist, screenwriter, author
Story Factory board member

Our Annual Report for 2019-20

In the final days of 2020 it makes us so proud to look back over 2019 – 2020 and see how far we’ve come in our annual report.

Like for everyone else in the world – this was the hardest, strangest, most bewildering year many of us have lived through.

But there’s something in our collective story that isn’t the same, because we know the impact of this pandemic doesn’t affect everyone equally. People experiencing disadvantage are more at risk – both from the illness itself and from the effects of the response to it.

Our mission at Story Factory has always been to change lives through the power of creating stories. Our mission has not changed, but it’s never been more urgent or important.

» To stay connected with young people who need connection the most

» To help them catch up on the learning missed during lockdown

» To help process everything that has happened this year

» To show them that their voices are worth listening to

It is vital we stay connected with them, with their imagination, with their futures. Because in a year like this, one thing becomes very clear – connection really matters.

We hope you enjoy reading the story of how we rolled with the punches, but more importantly, how our fantastic students wrote their way through a very strange year. Their talent, perspective, creativity and imagination is nothing short of inspiring.

Celebrating NAIDOC Week

At Story Factory we’re so proud to work with many Indigenous young people. In fact in 2019-20 17% of our students were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

For NAIDOC Week we’re celebrating their stories, some brought wonderfully to life by our gifted storyteller Russ, a proud Nyoongar man.

The NAIDOC theme for 2020 is Always was, always will be. And that’s worth celebrating. Check it out through the link below.

Our Pandemic Guide is in Print

The response to our e-publication A User’s Guide to a Pandemic was so positive we’ve decided to print it! This book called on students Australia-wide to submit their written responses to this extraordinary year. The compilation is a thoughtful, funny, imaginative, heartbreaking and brilliant anthology of young voices, speaking to a changing world. Soon to be available in good bookshops everywhere.

Storybox

Storybox Parramatta has launched in Parramatta Square, displaying digital stories from Parramatta’s past, present and future.

Storybox is a two-metre multimedia cube with digital screens streaming stories created by the community and footage from the ABC Archives. Students from our poetry workshops submitted their work which you can view in the cube. You can visit from 7am to 10pm daily to see their poetry, as well as work by established and emerging Western Sydney digital storytellers, artists, writers, photographers and filmmakers and the community.

Storybox Parramatta is a joint creation with Esem Projects, ABC Content Ideas Lab, Western Sydney University, Story Factory, Curious Works and Form Dance, and YOU! You can submit your stories through the link below.

We’re COVID Safe

At Story Factory we are a COVID safe space – but what does that mean?

It means we have thought deeply and carefully about the best way to operate to protect our students and staff.

It means we have frequent and regular cleaning procedures in place to ensure all spaces and surfaces that come into human contact are disinfected after use.

It means all our storytellers working in schools now have extra pieces in their storytelling kit – disinfectant and masks – as well as new policies in place to minimise contact.

It means that all visitors to our centres need to register their details for possible contact tracing and that our centres aren’t open to the public.

It means we’ve suspended most of our volunteering opportunities until the current health situation changes (volunteers – we miss you!).

Importantly, it means we’ve submitted all our policies and procedures to NSW Health for approval.

So you can have confidence that Story Factory is still working hard to bring the power of storytelling to as many young people as we can, in the safest way we can.

Students Document their Pandemic Experience

Story Factory has joined with 100 Story Building (Melbourne), The Story Island (Tasmania) and StoryBoard (Byron Bay) in publishing a new anthology of student writing A User’s Guide to a Pandemic.

This anthology drew on student work written from around Australia but we want to take a moment to celebrate the wonderful work of the students who sometimes submitted multiple pieces of writing.

You can download the publication here but if you want to read every single brilliant piece of work submitted, you can download their writing through the button below.

Australian Teen Writing About The Pandemic Published This Week

YOUNG PEOPLE’S EXPERIENCES OF THE COVID PANDEMIC PUBLISHED IN A NEW COLLECTION OF AUSTRALIAN WRITING 

A new publication written by young people across Australia about their experiences during the COVID-19 lock-down period, A User’s Guide to a Pandemic, has been published this week.

The initiative is part of a collaboration between youth writing centres Story Factory (NSW), 100 Story Building (Melbourne), The Story Island (Tasmania) and StoryBoard (Byron Bay) aimed at amplifying the voices of young people during the uncertainty and disconnection of the pandemic.

Young people participated in online creative writing workshops and created pieces of writing that investigate the challenges, the unexpected joys, the boredom, worries and hopes of these unusual times. The collection begins with a foreword by Markus Zusak, best-selling author of The Book Thief.

A User’s Guide to a Pandemic is everything it should be: enlightening, frightening, and containing death-defyingly good writing from Story Factory students. And I should also add, definitely hilarious. In times of need, turning to the writing of children is so often the answer…” said Zusak.

Story Factory Executive Director and Co-founder Dr Cath Keenan AM said “These are such strange times and we wanted to hear directly from young people about how they were feeling, and what they were thinking. We also wanted to find a way to help them feel connected with others during a period of isolation”. 

“The pandemic has been difficult for all of us, but it has been particularly difficult for young people experiencing socio-economic disadvantage.

“In partnering with fellow writing and literacy organisations across the country we were seeking to forge new connections – between cities, students and through our shared experiences of the pandemic.”

Saniah (15), a student from Beverly Hills Girls High School who took part in the Story Factory online workshops said, “The experience was incredibly enriching, engaging as well as dynamic. Partaking in it every week and being able to communicate with those that were going through the same period of isolation with me really helped ease the monotony of the pandemic.

“When I read my short story piece, it feels as if I’ve turned how I felt during isolation into a narrative. It’s like another part of me. That’s why I felt proud of it.

“For me, writing is an escape that allows me to truly transcend into my mind. I think it’s amazing that through writing we can be ourselves, while putting out content that may resonate with others.” 

A User’s Guide to a Pandemic is available to download on the Story Factory website and all proceeds go to support creative writing programs for marginalised young people.

READ MORE: https://www.storyfactory.org.au/pandemic/

Ernest Aaron – Our Art Write Light partner for 2020

We’re thrilled to be working with the acclaimed visual and multimedia artist Ernest Aaron as part of our Art Write Light program in 2020.

Ernest Aaron is a multi-disciplinary artist working across a variety of mediums including painting, photography, sound, video, installation, sculpture and drawing.

He has held several solo exhibitions and participated in group exhibitions since 2003. Recent solo exhibitions include Amplified (with Andrew Aaron) at the Blacktown Arts Centre (2019) and Perceptual Fields at Peacock Gallery, Auburn (2013).

His awards and prizes include Emerging Artist’s Award, Mosman Art Prize (2006),  Blacktown Art Prize (2010), and Emerging, Gosford Regional Gallery (2011). He was selected as a finalist in the Wynne Prize at the Art Gallery of NSW in 2012.

A New Way of Giving

Story Factory has partnered with round-up app Sipora so our supporters can easily donate any spare e-change every month!  What’s a round-up app and how does it work? Good question.

Once you’ve downloaded Sipora and linked securely to your bank account(s), Sipora “rounds up” to the nearest dollar every electronic transaction you make on your selected accounts (from coffees to car insurance, from groceries to garden tools) by withdrawing an additional small amount from your nominated account and depositing it in your own personal secure electronic wallet.  

All you need to do – the first time you sign up to Sipora –  is tell Sipora to direct your monthly round-up amount to the Story Factory!  After that, every time you make an electronic transaction, you’re making an important contribution to us. 

 No credit card, no monthly direct debit to worry about –  and best of all your tax receipt will be automatically sent to you every month.

Signing up to Sipora is really easy.  Just follow six simple steps:

1. First, download the app from Apple or Google (a click of a button)

2. Next, sign up as a Sipora user (takes 30 seconds!)

3. Connect your bank accounts (easy, secure and only about 30 seconds again!)

4. Now it’s time to enter your Story Factory promo code.  Press the Settings button – bottom right hand corner of the Sipora navigation bar

5. Once inside settings, click the 2nd option – “Add Promo Code” – follow the prompts and enter the code SFACTORY”.  (Sipora gives us $5 for every “SFACTORY” code entered)

6. Finally, to set up your automatic monthly round-up payments to Story Factory, simply hit the “Charity” icon at the bottom of the app, and follow the prompts!”

That’s all there is to do.  If you have any questions our friends at Sipora will be there to help you all the way.

What does it cost Story Factory?  Absolutely nothing.  Sipora charges their users (you, our supporters) $1.50 a month to use the “give to charity” feature.

Workin’ 9-5

In our Working Stories program we work with students to visualise a wonderful future for themselves and their dream job – and then work out how to make it a reality.

The girls we worked with at Birrong Girls High School blew us away with their strong sense of who they were and what was important to them. Take a look to see for yourself that the future is looking bright!

With our thanks to all our volunteer writing tutors , teachers and students.

Story Factory exists to bring the joy of storytelling to kids in under-resourced communities. But we recognise that right now, in these unprecedented times, we need to help all kids develop their creative writing.

We have made this resource free, but if you’re in a position to make a donation, we ask that you please do. This will help us reach the kids who need it most, now and in the future.

Read more about our other programs here

We asked Nickie, a Year 10 student in our Year of the Novella program, to write an original opinion piece on the Black Lives Matter movement and its implications for her generation.

By Nickie Tran

I saw a video on Instagram of a woman pretending like she was helping a worker board up a window. Drill in hand and bandana wrapped around her face, she struck a pose. Her friend stood in front, camera ready, to snap a photo for the ‘gram. Then they drove away. 

Ah, social media — our greatest ally during these dark times of police brutality, racism, riots, and chaos. Simultaneously (and unfortunately) it also provides an outlet for opportunists like Instagram Influencers to boost their social media’s presence. I’ll say it once and I’ll say it again: the #BlackLivesMatter protests in the US right now are not a prop for your glamorous photoshoot. It’s not an aesthetic you can ride on to show that you care. People are dying, and it’s disrespectful to use that opportunity to post hot pics disguised as activism. 

Influencer culture on social media, namely Instagram, motivates toxic and pretentious behaviour. Influencers strive for the most likes, followers, and “clout”. So during the protests, when online activism is so highly encouraged, certain influencers will use it to gain fame. The Instagram model and influencer, Kris Schatzel, was caught on camera posing and taking pictures at protests before walking away. She argued that it was her way of spreading awareness. However, using protesters who are risking their lives for change as a backdrop is insensitive and superficial. It is not an engaging or immersive form of activism. Staying on the sidelines and using a singular post as the bare minimum does not create real change. It is only signalling to their audience that they are doing something, even if it’s not enough.

By glamourising and glorifying activism for an online aesthetic, it’s trivialising the real and significant issue at hand. A video was seen on TikTok was made by a boy who purposely tried to get arrested by the police to gain sympathy from his audience. He smiled, laughed and posed for the camera while being led by the police, taking shirtless photos and captioned it all as: “made into a criminal for breaking silence.” Of course, this reeks of white privilege, he did it knowing he’ll go home unscathed. He mocked it, he knew he won’t be punished as severely as if a black person did it. He twisted a devastating issue of oppression and racism into some trendy “bad boy” aesthetic. This tactic of performative activism is a hindrance to real progress.

Influencers should use their platform to amplify black voices, educate their followers, and inform them on practical solutions that actually lead to change. The #BLM protests need to stop being treated like a fashionable trend. The movement is more than just a hashtag. It’s more than just a black screen. And it’s certainly so much more than just a cute selfie in front of walking protesters. 

During an especially difficult time for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and for Black, First Nations and People of Colour communities across the world, we at Story Factory feel it is important to re-emphasise our respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. We acknowledge their enduring importance as the first sovereign Nations of Australia, and that this sovereignty was never ceded or extinguished.

We also acknowledge that the ongoing disempowerment and oppression of First Nations people is a wound at the heart of our nation. For centuries, it has cost Indigenous people their lives. We have the deepest respect for the strength and determination with which Indigenous people have struggled to right these wrongs. Now, at what we hope is a moment of change, we commit to working harder to support them. 

We are doing this by working through the recommendations of Reconciliation Australia with our Indigenous and non-Indigenous staff and board. We do some things well but can do many things better. We commit, in particular, to extending our efforts to support young Indigenous people to tell their stories. Last year, we worked with around 700 young Indigenous people – 16% of our enrolment – but there are so many more whose stories remain untold and unheard.

Story Factory started in 2012 in Redfern, where many political and social justice movements were born. We pay our deepest respects to all the hard-working Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders in this community, and all the communities we work with, who have achieved so much. We will work with them to provide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children a space to express themselves through storytelling and give them the best chance of connecting to their education. We will continue to support these young people to build their confidence and share their stories with the world.

These young people are the future of our nation, and for them – and for all our Indigenous brothers and sisters – we pledge to do more.


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Markus  Zusak is joining us for a very special student written publication – A USER’S GUIDE TO A PANDEMIC! Markus  Zusak  is the internationally bestselling author of six novels, including The Book ThiefBridge of Clay and The Messenger. His books are translated into more than forty languages, and have spent more than a decade on the New York Times Bestseller list.


Markus and a Story Factory alien… Markus is the one on the right.

Markus and a Story Factory alien… Markus is the one on the right.

A USER’S GUIDE TO A PANDEMIC is a collection of writing from young people across Australia on how to get by, and even thrive during a pandemic. Zusak is contributing the introduction to this important new text, but we need your help to finish it!

We’re calling for contributions from students aged 7 – 17 to submit their tips, reflections and perspective on what it is like to live through a global pandemic. Student can register to take part in free, online workshops to help shape their idea, or submit their writing for consideration.

This project is undertaken in partnership with writing organisations for youth across the country – Story Board in Byron Bay, 100 Story Building in Victoria and Story Island in Tasmania, and any Australian young person can submit their writing.

The selected writing will be published in a beautiful anthology that captures the spirit of these strange times. We’re so thrilled Markus is joining us for the ride, we hope you will too!

G’day folks, 

Benjamin Law here – writer, broadcaster, proud Inkwell and Story Factory volunteer and board member. 

I hope you’re doing out (actually, scrap that – in) there, and that your Vitamin D levels aren’t too deficient yet. 

Given our physically distanced and self-isolated times, you be forgiven for assuming Story Factory has gone into hibernation. After all, the bulk of Story Factory’s work involves going into classrooms and interacting with students, or inviting kids across central and Western Sydney into our headquarters at Redfern and Parramatta for free workshops to boost their creativity and literacy. 

So much of Story Factory’s work – to date – has been about close contact. If you’ve ever volunteered, you’ll know so much hinges upon pouring patience, encouragement and attention onto individual kids and teens. Over an hour, a shy kid will go from insisting they can’t write to almost busting to share their story with the entire class about their favourite AFL player scoring a point, a diabolically murderous robot or fart-filled monster. (Or a diabolically fart-filled AFL player.) 

But Story Factory hasn’t gone into sleep mode at all. In some ways, we’ve never been busier. 

And actually, we need your support more than ever. Right now, we’re in the midst of the strangest – and most logistically challenging – Term Two in history.

Kids and teenagers who were already struggling before coronavirus shut schools and forced them to learn from home are now very much at risk: of being forgotten; of never catching up on their education; of being locked out of the workforce and emotionally losing contact with their school and safety net. 

Across New South Wales, teachers are understandably challenged with the rate of change and new ways to deliver classes. Parents and guardians are working out how to simultaneously make a living, readjusting to this new reality and somehow educate their children. Many and finding they almost need to bend the laws of physics to make any of this work. 

Which means that more than ever, the work Story Factory does is crucial. We’re already helping minimise the adverse impacts of coronavirus on education for kids, teachers and parents alike – not just across New South Wales, but Australia. We’re charting new territory, rapidly evolving to ensure we can reach everyone where they are – by mail, video, zoom, email, phone call, even carrier pigeon if needed.

If you page through our website, you’ll see free online resources including after-school workshops, fun writing projects and workshops online for parents and teachers.

If you’re already a part of our Inkwell program as a financial supporter, we’re indebted – you ensure Story Factory’s important work continues when it’s needed most. If you’d like to consider making a monthly tax-deductible donation, please know your contribution makes a massive local difference, and now has the potential to reach more marginalised young people than ever. 

It’s a small act with a big result. Small, steady donations make all the difference, allowing us to plan for the future and assure our students that we will be there for them. 

Hope you’re well and those you love are safe. We can’t wait to see you – and the kids in your life – again face to face. In the meantime, we’ll see you online! 

—Ben

BENJAMIN LAW (羅旭能)

WRITER & BROADCASTER

During this time of isolation Story Factory is joining with our friends from 100 Story Building in Melbourne, StoryBoard in Byron Bay, and Story Island in Tasmania to work with students to compile a world first – A User’s Guide to a Pandemic! A collection of writing that investigates the experiences of young people experiencing marginalisation in Australia as they live through the strange current situation.

We‘ll be delivering online workshops (and so will 100 Story Building for students in Victoria) to support students completing pieces of writing that investigate the challenges, the unexpected joys, the boredom, worries and hopes of these unusual times. Young people from across the country will share what is important to them, what they discover and how they would like the world to change.

If you can’t participate in a workshop but still want to contribute you can! Young people can submit their writing here.

The best bit is that all this writing will be published in a handy guide on how to thrive in a pandemic, to share the wisdom of these young writers with future generations!

We’ve been crunching some numbers and have discovered some pretty amazing things about the work we’ve been doing over the last year. We had to share!

In 2019 we counted:

  • 5,935 student enrolments (ages 7-17)

  • 16% Indigenous

  • 48% from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds

  • 98% from lower socioeconomic communities

  • 55% girls and 45% boys

  • 28,147 hours students spent in workshops with us

  • 6.5 hours of dedicated writing time, on average, per student

All of that means 2019 was our biggest year ever. It also means that we’re doing a great job of achieving what we set out to do every week – bringing engaging, inspiring, fun, life-changing creative writing programs to many thousands of the marginalised kids who need them most.

When we began expanding into Western Sydney, and opened Story Factory Parramatta, our aim was to double our annual reach and impact within three years. In both enrolments (reach) and student hours (impacts) we have done exactly that. That’s a pretty extraordinary achievement in anyone’s book. And it feels pretty fantastic. 

In a typical term we’re now working with as many as 1,400 children and teenagers in our workshops, giving them opportunities to let their imaginations soar, building their writing confidence and helping them find their voice. The feedback from the teachers who see them in class every day tells us that that investment is making a real difference, increasing their engagement and improving learning outcomes over time.

In Term Two – strange and unusual as it will be for all young people – student numbers and engagement levels will likely end up looking a little different.

But what we know for sure is that all our students need us more than ever. Independent reports are saying that there is a very real risk of significant learning gaps for as many as 50% of kids because of time away from the classroom this year. And they say it’s vital that disadvantaged kids, those most at risk of falling behind, are given access to the extra supports that will keep them connected, and keep them learning. 

That’s where we come in. Now, and in that vital period when things start returning to normal, we’ll be there to help them recover lost ground, rebuild their literacy and motivation to learn, and stick with their education. 

We’re planning for when we’re seeing at least 1,500 students a term again, and growing that number even higher. What a very satisfying crunch that will be too.

With the news that students will begin returning to school from week three of Term Two comes the certainty that this will be another term that will feel different to any gone before – for students, parents and teachers alike.

As we, at Story Factory, plan as best we can for the new (albeit temporary and constantly evolving) ‘normal’, we remain focussed on the young people and families who find themselves marginalised by factors beyond their control, and the very particular set of challenges that they face. 

Perhaps they are new arrivals to Australia, some with languages other than English spoken at home, others without access to devices or data to allow online learning, some who rely on school for structure and support, and many others who simply struggle to engage with their education at the best of times.

These are the students we exist to work with, to connect with, and to encourage. Now more than ever it is our goal to affirm for them that their voice matters, that education can be fun, and that by unleashing their creativity they can open up a world of possibility.

Our fantastic storytelling team has been rapidly redesigning our programs so we can continue to reach as many young people as possible. For Term Two we are preparing to work with teachers and students across a multitude of eventualities – whether we are interacting with classes online, via pre-recorded video and workbook modules, with live components, or a combination of these.

We’re also offering a range of at-home online options for students and their educators – whether that means teachers or parents and carers.

For high school students we’re offering a range of after school workshops, from those designed to engage teens with ideas and discussion in ‘Control Alt Edit’, to working on a particular piece for later performance in ‘Listen Here’, or responding to the COVID19 era in ‘A Users’ Guide to a Pandemic’. Writings collected through our ‘Users’ Guide’ workshops will ultimately be published in an ebook – sure to go down in history as a unique archive of all the ways that teenagers responded to living through this one-of-a-kind experience.

We’ve also created an online workshop for primary students in Years Five and Six. In ‘Animal I Am’ children will combine drawing and poetry to create an animal totem that embodies their strengths.

For our educators workshop series, we have workshops for teachers looking for new ways to write poetry with students, a structure to guide students through the writing of an aspirational biography, scriptwriting, narrative and more.

For parents, we break-down proven, simple strategies to engage your kids in writing poems, in seeing and writing about themselves, and in describing the world around them.

All of these programs are offered free because we want to make them readily available to all those who can most benefit from participation. That means that we’re prioritising access for young people, teachers and parents from lower socioeconomic and under-resourced communities, including all of those we usually work with. 

We know the power that creative writing can have on a young life, and on their education and we want to sing it from the rooftops.

Okay, a bit of an insight into teaching. There’s this thing teachers talk about called the instructional conversation, which is the conversation students and teachers have during the learning process. Basically it’s split into two parts – procedural and involvement.

Procedural conversation is about getting the lesson moving and letting students know how and what they need to achieve; involvement is the genuine interaction with students – things like encouragement or  individual comments on work.

Anyway, the reason I’m telling you this is that it’s becoming apparent that isolation and students learning from home has quite suddenly made non-teaching folk painfully aware how complicated these conversations are, and how much work teachers do that is above and beyond just delivering content.

All over the country and the world parents are trying to work out the  intricacies of this thing called teaching, and learning that teaching is so much more than content.

As amazing as teachers have been in moving whole months of work online for students (which is pretty amazing), what is more amazing is the sudden recognition of the mysterious interaction teachers have with students that is partway between instruction and partnership, the relationship  that inspires and helps students to work as well as they can.

This is what teachers are now really scrambling to find for their students, and it’s what some parents are struggling to provide in the mini-classrooms that have sprung up at kitchen tables across the world.

We’re all learning, learning how to teach in different ways, learning how to parent in new ways, even learning how to relate and interact with people in new ways.

But it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate the ongoing work of teachers as they work to provide students with the social, emotional and educational support they need to continue learning in these strange times. 

Richard Short, Storyteller-in-Chief

We asked some of our Year of Novella students to write for us what life is like now they are learning from home. We really have to hand it to them – adjusting to such a different way of life, a new way of learning, and writing their way through is a very impressive achievement!

We‘re here to support all our students through it, and we’ll keep sharing their stories, but for now let’s hear from Amaima and Nickie.

It’s tough on my willpower, but it’s not all that bad. I mean I do confuse week A with week B and Monday with Sunday, just to regret my existence; but still, it’s not so bad. I still wouldn’t want to go to the place where I can’t tease my mum whenever I have the opportunity… And now on a serious note… I think I need some connection with my school and novella workshop so I don’t forget the purpose of it all. 

I don’t feel as if my motivation is strong enough to wake me up every morning for five days a week just to attend classes online. I may be a bit dodgy with it on occasions as well, because that’s the side effect of working from home. This is not somethingI’m proud of, so I want all this virus to vanish because people do not look good when they are always stuck at home or so says my mum.

– Amaima (Year 11)

Online workshops or classes often become the highlight of my academic obligations as it’s the only time I really get to interact with a group of people who share the same learning goals as me. Story Factory workshops have been so fun and inspirational during these tough times as everybody can take turns bouncing off their ideas that further enrich our craft. However, like anything, there’s always limitations. For example, a teacher would sometimes ask a question and everyone is either too intimidated or awkward to answer so that’s always a bit funny to watch!

It’s hard to discipline myself when everything is online, because physical routines and schedules are thrown out of the window. Nevertheless, it’s still nice to be able to continue what we’re doing, even if we’re hundreds of kilometres away!  

– Nickie (Year 10)

Goodbye Term One, we barely knew you.

The first term of 2020 will surely go down in history as one of the most disrupted terms that Australian students have ever known. Between fires and smoke at the beginning of term and then the encroaching threat of COVID-19 changing the very face of education worldwide, we think all students and teachers deserve a huge round of applause for getting through it.

At Story Factory, we were able to deliver our programs despite the changes and we’re extremely proud of the writing our students produced under such strained circumstances.

As it became clearer that the health threat from this new virus was significant (remember when we were all still learning about what a coronavirus was?) we made the sad but necessary decision to cancel volunteer placements and finish the term with just our storytellers.

Despite these constrained circumstances, the creativity and imagination of our students were as bright and brilliant as ever. Like Kyle in Chifley College Shalvey, who created a very playful and funny alter ego who is a bald, boring old man who is able to kill with his blank expression. His deadpan delivery when we presented his YouTube channel interview with his alter ego to the class brought the house down.

At Auburn Girls High School Year Ten students were invited to create a script out of embarrassing moments (inspired by our storytellers’ mortifying tale of high-fiving his favourite singer in the armpit). One student wrote about getting caught in the rain and having to go to school the next day with wet shoes. She was so excited in telling the story to her volunteer and her group, and her joy and investment in the story is what made it so fantastic. It meant that when it came time to do the activity to develop the story, she wholeheartedly believed it was a story worth telling (and it was) and it made it a better product because of it.

Or at Berala Public School where students were excited and willing to get creative from the beginning, but just didn’t know how to. By working through our activities and writing prompts each week, students started creating well thought-out characters and landscapes. For example, a memory card game allowed them to mix and match different bug names to create their very own bug creation! This empowered their imagination and through discovering there were no right or wrong answers, students felt more comfortable to express their ideas and enjoy sharing them with others.

It’s clear the challenge for Term Two will be significant. Our students may not have access to a computer, a device or data. We’ve heard stories of families of four with only mum’s phone between them trying to navigate education at home.

Story Factory is totally committed to reaching our students by whatever means we can – through mail delivery of printed writing packs, through pre-recorded videos to watch any time, through live broadcasts, through online workshops after school, free workshops for educators, through social media, email, our website and through our strong relationships with schools. We may even investigate using carrier pigeons! Because even though we don’t get to see our students in person for now, we want them to know they are so important, and it’s so important for them to keep creating.

We’re looking forward to Term Two already.

We asked our storytellers for their top tips for parents and kids adjusting to learning at home. Their biggest tip? Take it easy on yourself! We’re all adjusting to this brave new world, and we’re all working out what works best. So don’t beat yourself up if you’ve had a challenging day, because tomorrow is a new day.

Once you’ve taken a deep breath and some time to regroup, here are some working principles to help you along the way.

  1. Encourage playtime. At school, there is a lot of emphasis on syllabus and learning outcomes. What this means is less focus on exploring ideas and concepts through play in the classroom. Now is a great time to allow your children to spend time creating their own imaginary games. It is wonderful for promoting problem solving, sharing, extended attention and creative thinking. This can be through lego, pillow forts, toys interacting with each other, or anything they come up with!

  2. Reading: If you have the time, spend it reading with your kids. Facilitating a love of reading is one of the best things you can pass on to a young person. The best way is to model it yourself (take the time to sit and enjoy an article, or a novel in front of them) or to take the time to read something together. Reading exposes children to new ideas and concepts, whole new ways of thinking, new worlds… it teaches them to spend time alone, to have a means of escape, a talking point with adults and other children. The wonders of reading! You can do this by encouraging them to read something and tell you about it, or by reading to them if they are younger or having difficulty with it. Be patient if you’re sitting with them, allow them to get words wrong and problem solve and sound it out. Also, support the independent bookstores that are delivering to your door if you can!

  3. Avoid limitless passive screen time (or too much screen time in general): If you have the capacity to limit screen time, do it. While there are many “interactive” learning games and applications available now, most do not require more than passive observation or guesswork by students. If your kids are desperate to stay on the iPad or phone, give them a project where they can self-teach new skills, like creating a movie, creating music, or developing a story online.

  4. Encourage research. Again, if your children are old enough and are desperate to stay online, assign them a research task. Knowing how to navigate the internet and google searching is not an intuitive skill. Most children will need direction, but once they begin to navigate it, it can be fun! These can be everyday research tasks; finding a recipe, researching an actor or comic book they like, looking up riddles, determining the ‘best’ watch for children their age etc.

  5. Give structure. Most children respond to a routine, especially if it is similar to that at school. School tends to start with reading and writing, then a break, following by maths and a new subject (science, religion, geography, sport) and a break. Draw up a visual outline/timetable with them and fill it in together. Knowing what comes next removes a huge burden for most children. Check them out on Pinterest if you’re not sure what they look like.

Now you’ve got our tips, why not check out these resources for writing at home and get writing!

Because we, as always, want to prioritise the health, wellbeing and safety of our students, volunteers and all in the community, Story Factory has wound up delivery of Term One creative writing programs a little earlier than originally planned due to the fast-moving situation with COVID-19 in Australia. 

This means that Story Factory staff will not be going into schools and partner organisations to deliver programs from next week (24 March 2020). Volunteers have already been withdrawn from all programs.

We are working closely with our school and community partners to ensure that all programs conclude with positive outcomes for our young writers – they’ll receive typed and published copies of the writing they’ve been working on throughout the term, wherever possible, just like usual. We’ll also provide extra worksheets for them to be able to continue writing at home in their own time. 

We’re now moving into planning mode for Term Two, and considering a number of options for continuing to engage marginalised young people in creative writing programs that inspire creativity and help them build confidence with writing.

These are difficult and worrying times, and we’re very conscious that for many in the communities we work in there will be a number of challenges ahead. We will do all we can to support them and look forward to resuming our writing journey with them as soon as we’re able.

Story Factory is committed to ensuring that the voices of marginalised young people are shared and celebrated. We will continue to publish and applaud their creativity, their ideas, and their wonderful words in the weeks and months ahead.

Stay tuned and stay connected with us via social media, and sign up to our newsletter to receive regular updates.