Monday 3 November 2014

Monsters, young people and stories

Monsters need supplies if they’re to properly scare their victims. Whether that be a bottle of ‘Escalating Panic’ to instill an increasing sensation of pure fear among a crowd. Or maybe if you’re a monster, you’re shopping for ‘Fang Floss’, to remove all common forms of fang-matter, including: brains, gore, bones, viscera, entrails, seaweed, toffee, and much more. Or possibly a bottle of ‘Salt made from Tears of Laughter’ is what you’re after. Made from a century-old craft with the freshest human tears, which are gently boiled, crystallised, then harvested by hand and finally rinsed in brine.

These are some of the supplies you can purchase in the Hoxton Street Monster Supplies store – an ordinary looking shop, which upon expectation, is actually far from ordinary, unless you are in fact a monster. Different bottles and capsules hold normal household items including salt, olive oil, lollies and jam, but it is the stories on the labels that introduce you to a whole new world of imagination and creativity.

This is where storytelling comes to life.

“Behind a secret door accessed through the shop you will find us – the Ministry of StoriesWe are a creative writing and mentoring centre for young people in east London. We use storytelling to inspire young people aged 8-18 years because it is our belief that writing unleashes their imaginations and builds confidence, self-respect and communication,” shared Lucy Macnab, the co-director.

Through workshops, publishing projects and one-to-one coaching - services which are provided by local writers, artists and teachers who volunteer their time and talent - young people are supported to express themselves through story. 

But what really sets the MoS apart is the way the treat the young people in their care.

“We see each as a young creative professional,” said Lucy.

Founded in November 2010 by Nick Hornby and co-directors Lucy Macnab and Ben Payne, the Ministry of Stories (MoS) was inspired by the writer Dave Eggers and educator Ninive Calegari who opened a shop for pirates and a writing centre called 826Valencia in San Francisco.

“Through our conversations with teachers, students, writers and artists, we recognised that there was a great appetite for creative writing and learning in London, and especially a need for more individual attention through coaching and mentoring.”

“We also wanted to offer something quite special for the public. We collectively brainstormed ideas and among many peculiar options, it was decided that a shop for monsters would cater for both boys and girls. It is designed to challenge people’s assumptions and get stories flowing before pen hits the paper,” Lucy explained.

“It’s where we celebrate weirdness.”

All members of the team at MoS have a background in education and storytelling. Lucy has worked in participation, writer development and teaching. “My role is to help young people tell their stories, whether that be by print, performance, digitally or through collaboration.”

“Writing is everywhere. It is involved in everything we do, and it’s about helping children realise that writing exists in so many forms. From a cartoon, to a poem, to a video game, to a novel.”

“We believe that if you feel you can express your ideas, a lot of the world starts to fall into place,” Lucy shared.

Among the many projects the MoS has helped bring to life is the soap opera Dead Ends. In 2012, a team of writing mentors led eight students through the after school-school club to produce four five-minute episodes inspired by Hoxton Street. They also received the input of EastEnders lead writer, Pete Lawson to create a script. (Watch Episode 1 here!) 

The students also worked with Nick Hornby to create their own country – the Children’s Republic of Shoreditch, complete with constitution, manifesto and national anthem. During the summer of 2012, the children used a building on Hoxton Street as their Embassy, which was opened to the public each Saturday.

Nick Hornby said: “The MoS has always aimed to challenge the traditional ways that children interact with education. The Children’s Republic of Shoreditch aims to give young writers further opportunities to explore questions about their identity and locality: what’s it like to be who they are in the place that they live and what might they like to change to make their life better.”

Then last year, 56 children aged 8-13 years old worked with Communion Records to produce a music album called Share More Air featuring songs about cats on missions, friends and enemies, and loving your mum. The lyrics were written by the children, and sung by adult musicians (Learn more about the production process by watching this video here).  

The MoS is currently doing a three-year impact study with the Institute of Education to measure the effectiveness of their work. “The response we have received from parents, teachers and the students themselves has been incredibly positive. Often a student will come to us and say: ‘I’m not good at writing’ or ‘ I don’t like to write’, but by the end, they are having so much fun that they don’t even realise they are actually learning.”

“Parents have also told us that their children are more confident and engaged, and enjoy learning now.”

If you’re feeling pulled to mentor young people and want to help them find their voice, the MoS is always looking for new volunteers to join their team. Sign up here  


Leah is a passionate storyteller, a multi-skilled communications specialist and a devoted human rights activist. She writes to ignite meaningful connection, to arouse curiosity, to push boundaries, to live large, to speak up, to create change.

She is deeply fuelled by a desire to create ideas and build visions to make this world a better place. A place where we can each equally follow our dreams - regardless of the place we were born, our religious affiliations, our sexual identity, our access to education. Everything in fact to do with the status quo. After studying the causes of conflict and division in society, Leah now uses storytelling to unite people, to create community and to open opportunities for collective action.

Her website, Paper Planes Connect, is a place to celebrate our difference and to unite in our sameness.

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