One language spoken at home, another at school. A three-year gap in children’s literacy levels between Western Sydney and Eastern Sydney. Despite recent concerns about the negative impact screen time is having on children’s literacy levels in Australia, marginalisation and the socio-economic divide continues to demarcate kids’ literacy skills. Luckily there are those who are ready to fill in the gaps.
Story Factory is a not-for profit creative writing centre which runs creative writing programs to improve literacy skills. The organisation facilitates a safe space where marginalised kids – especially those who come from indigenous, culturally and linguistically diverse and lower socio-economic backgrounds – can find their voice through storytelling.
Dr Cath Keenan, co-founder and executive director of Story Factory, says that the programs are about “boosting confidence” and engaging kids in creative writing “who would not normally be engaged.” Confidence is a common issue among school students with low literacy levels and Story Factory has standardised many of their programs to “facilitate a supported space,” explains Keenan. For kids who don’t normally express themselves in the classroom the writing workshops give them permission to be creative and encourage excitement about storytelling. At the end of the program, the students are able to walk away with their own printed and bound story.
Story Factory is certainly not alone in its work. Organisations around the world aim to bolster creative writing among marginalised youth. 826 Valencia is the common source of inspiration: an organisation with a focus on fostering creative writing for disadvantaged young people in San Francisco. In France, Labo des Histoires is loosely inspired by 826 Valencia but has a slightly different model to Story Factory. During the evening and weekends, the organisation offers free workshop spaces to those aged less than twenty-five years old.
Australian politicians enjoy declaring their pride in Australian multiculturalism, yet it is still kids from Indigenous, and low socio-economic backgrounds who are left out. Although she describes the demand in Western Sydney for the programs as “endless”, Keenan says that she would like to see Story Factory expand into more regional areas. But at the end of the day, the kids leave the workshops confident and keen to share more stories. Or as former Story Factory student, Duy Quang Mai writes, “the page rustles / into a heartbeat.”