100 Story Building, a centre for young writers.
From the outside 100 Story Building in Footscray looks inconspicuous, a freshly painted white façade with colourful bunting in the window. But step inside and it’s a whole new world. This is a place brimming with the buzz of creativity, a wonderland for the imagination. Here students of the Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) communities have the opportunity to work on long-term publishing projects in collaboration with professional authors, all with the help of a talented and dedicated full-time staff.
I met with 100 Story Building co-founder, Lachlann Carter to discover how 100 Story Building was created.
What is your background? Do have particular interests that drew you to this kind of project?
I used to do a lot of theatre and I’ve always had an interest in story telling. Initially I was interested in becoming a teacher. I had always admired teachers that brought personality and life into the classroom. After moving to Melbourne, I also did a lot of volunteer work that involved working with children in educational spaces.
Once I started studying teaching at university, my placements allowed me to connect with students from CALD backgrounds, especially in Melbourne’s inner-west, where 100 Story Building is based. One thing I noticed during my placements was that teachers often weren’t able to give students the one-on-one support they needed. I really wanted to create some kind of program that could bridge the gap, whilst still engaging with kids in a really positive way.
What was the inspiration for 100 Story Building?
In 2007 I heard Dave Eggers speak about 826 Valencia at the Wheeler Centre. 826 Valencia is a project Dave started in San Francisco. It is a not-for-profit organisation that supports students through learning and literacy programs.
After hearing Dave speak, my girlfriend Jenna and I pretty much immediately decided to go and do internships with 826 Valencia. And so we went over at the end of 2008 and stayed for three months. While we were there we did anything we could - from running workshops to cleaning the toilets and data entry.
We got to experience the programs firsthand, and we had a lot of time with the staff. They were very generous in helping us brainstorm how we could devise a similar project back in Australia, something Jenna and I had been considering for a while. Once we got back to Australia we started working on realising our project. That led to our pilot project, Pigeon Letters.
So, how did you go from publishing Pigeon Letters, to opening 100 Story Building?
It wasn’t until after the publication of Pigeon Letters that we started thinking about formalising what would become 100 Story Building. Up until then all of the work we had done was on a volunteer basis, so we were all working crazy hours to keep the projects going. Plus, we didn’t have a physical base. We were working mostly in schools or libraries, which was restrictive.
We wanted to somehow make our work into a viable business that could sustain itself. We knew it was possible; 826 Valencia proved that. However, we quickly found out that the retail model of 826 Valencia wouldn’t work for us, we were worried that a retail model of 826 Valencia might drag all of our energy away from what we really wanted to do, which was working with kids.
That was when we realised that we could turn the project into a social enterprise.
What does it mean exactly, to work as a social enterprise?
Basically it means finding a way to become economically viable without relying on income from retail. Instead, we run programs like Manuscript Feedback. This program offers adult writers a rare opportunity to have their work read and by editors at Hardie Grant Egmont. The money that we generate from sessions like this goes straight back into the business, providing 100 Story Building with the means to run. Essentially, these sessions directly fund our free programs that we host in-house and at schools.
What are the values that lay at the heart of 100 Story Building?
For me, it is really important to be closely involved with schools and the community, so that we can better understand the needs of the students. We work in collaboration with schools, developing programs that match their curriculum. We want to work with the teachers, not against them.
Our social purpose is really to build literacy skills and provide a sense of belonging to marginalised groups. But it’s important that it’s never boring, and it’s never one way; kids should be involved in the process, so it feels collaborative, and so that they have ownership.
We want to open up kid’s worlds to learning spaces outside of the classroom. My hope is that 100 Story Building will be a part of kid’s lives and parent’s lives, that it will become a place that they love and inspire stories to last a lifetime.