Imagine a warm, inviting space, full of brand new books, exciting art, interesting objects and friendly people – a place of mysterious messages and secret rooms, where the wildest adventures can take place. Welcome to 100 Story Building. With a mission to support children from marginalised and linguistically diverse backgrounds, 100 Story Building is nurturing confidence, inspiring creativity, and improving the reading and writing skills of kids throughout Melbourne’s west.
Located beside the Commonwealth Bank in Footscray’s Nicholson Street Mall, you’ll find a new, but inconspicuous, shopfront. Slow down for more than a passing glance and you’ll discover a whimsical and ever-changing window display unlike anything you’ve seen in Footscray before. Full of colour and humour, the 100 Story Building’s exhibits are a tantalising taste of the exciting things going on inside. We ventured in and spoke to co-founders Lachlann Carter and Jessica Tran for this special Bubba West story.
Behind the quirky exterior, 100 Story Building has a very carefully thought-out space. A huge and well-stocked bookcase is the focus of the room, along with several reclaimed-timber group work tables ready and waiting with pens and paper. Works of art feature on each wall, and glass-bottle pendant lights provide a warm atmosphere. The effect is studious, but unlike a classroom – comfortable, but unlike a home. All sorts of writing workshops and other programs are on offer for the kids of the west in this space where they can feel free to be themselves and take creative risks.
‘You may have noticed that we don’t actually have 100 stories above us,’ says Jessica, and we nod in confusion. ‘Aha! But, over here, we have a trapdoor that goes down to the 99 levels below!’ She takes us to a small but dangerous-looking trapdoor beneath numerous ‘Caution’ and ‘Beware’ signs, a coat rack providing hard hats and other protective gear.
We laugh. Surely there aren’t really 99 levels below… or are there? We start to wonder. Jessica and Lachlann are pretty evasive on the facts, but it’s precisely this kind of mystery that gets kids excited about being here – and sparks creative thinking.
‘The whole idea that there are 99 floors underneath us is, for some kids, a great “circuit-breaker”. They don’t actually believe it, but they start to talk and debate about it. Once they start talking about it, it becomes possible,’ says Lachlann.
And the trapdoor is more than a circuit-breaker; it informs several creative workshops the kids can take part in. To illustrate the point, Jess shows us two large suitcases full of interesting objects that have been found on those 99 levels: a plastic fish, a torch, a world globe, a can of ‘Puny Human’ (whatever that is!). ‘We invite the kids to choose an object and think about what happens on the level on which it was found,’ she says. The kids then write their stories, turning them into comics and mini zines.
The whole concept of 100 Story Building was inspired by the ‘826’ centres in the United States: a group of eight non-profit organisations dedicated to supporting kids’ literacy and writing skills, and helping teachers inspire their students to write. Like the 826 centres, 100 Story Building offers a variety of inventive programs that kids love, and that provide under-resourced students with the skills and inspiration to achieve successful educational outcomes.
Browsing just a few such comics from the large stack on the bookshelf, it’s clear that the kids making them had fun. And that’s what 100 Story Building is all about: showing kids that books, reading, writing and taking creative risks is fun. ‘Part of that is me acting like an idiot and showing that I feel free to take creative risks all the time,’ says Lachlann. ‘I’m showing that most of my creative output is kinda dumb; but, that’s ok! The paper doesn’t blow up in a ball of flames if what you draw doesn’t look like what you had in your head.’
This message is really emphasised through the involvement of professionals from the publishing industry, as well as famous authors and artists, who get involved to demystify the creative process. Big-name Australian authors who regularly take workshops with the kids include ambassadors Alice Pung and Sally Rippin. The first ‘Level 87 Book Club’ was with acclaimed children’s author Andy Griffiths, who also donated draft pages from one of his stories, which show all the changes, scribbles and edits that the piece went through before it was printed. The pages hang framed at the centre, showing every visitor that even stories by the most famous authors aren’t perfect first time.
Anther important element to the success of 100 Story Building is the connections it makes between each child, their family, and the local community. ‘With our book club, it’s not about just getting the kids in here sharing books with each other. We invite the families, as well as industry professionals and volunteers, to be a part of that process as well, so that there is support for the conversations to be had about books. In the family context, it’s all about the shared experience,’ says Lachlann.
So what is the end result of all this creative fun? Improved literacy and better engagement at school. Jess tells us that 100 Story Building uses the Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA), which represents levels of educational advantage, to identify schools, families and students who might benefit from the free programs on offer. While 100 Story Building co-programs with local teachers and schools, it does not offer a tutoring program; rather, after-school writing workshops, comic-creation sessions, the book club and collaborative writing activities all create a platform from which kids’ literacy can grow.
‘All the teachers we’ve had through have been overwhelmingly supportive and positive, because we’re not replacing literacy lessons, we’re enriching them and giving kids a whole lot of stuff to take back and unpick throughout their literacy work,’ says Lachlann.
As a former teacher at Footscray City Primary School, Lachlann is certainly one to know, and his experience in the west influenced the selection of Footscray as the lucky host suburb of 100 Story Building. He saw the lack of resources that inner west teachers have to deliver creative programming and support kids with additional learning needs, and those from linguistically diverse backgrounds.
‘There are changes happening in Footscray quite rapidly,’ says Lachlann. ‘We’ve been tracking the changes in the cultural make-up of schools.’ The team has found that while there has been an increase in the number of families with higher incomes in Melbourne’s west, there’s a growing gap and a starker marginalisation of families who are already quite marginalised. ‘That means there’s a greater need for us to be working closer with them,’ he adds.
As a social enterprise, free-of-charge programs for socio-economically disadvantaged students are funded by fees paid for other workshops. This means that every child has the opportunity to experience 100 Story Building, and the upcoming April school holiday programs are a great introduction. There are four different workshops based on comic making; kids can make a mini zine, or a comic, or they can ‘go down to the 99 floors below’ to figure out what’s down there. ‘They are fun workshops based on the creative things that we do here everyday,’ says Jessica. Visit the website for more information and to book online.
There are also workshops for adults interested in writing for children and young people. We know that having a baby in a pram is a big barrier to taking part in these kinds of all-day workshops, so the team at 100 Story Building have offered special group ‘pram bookings’ for parents keen to partake! Send us an email at [email protected] if you’re interested and we will help you get a group together.
The team are constantly planning new activities and programs. Visit the website and keep an eye out for upcoming developments such as the mail subscription package of stories by young writers, and the 100 Story Building kids’ library, with books in multiple languages.
Having had the grand tour of 100 Story Building, we certainly feel that the kids (and adults!) of the inner west are very lucky to have such a unique and inspiring place just for them, and so close to home. It’s a little world of intrigue and inspiration, but we left with one unanswered question still nagging: what on earth is behind that suspicious-looking bookcase? Send your kids along these holidays to find out!For more information: 100 Story Building 92 Nicholson St, Footscray 3011 (03) 9044 8215 www.100storybuilding.org.au [email protected] Or visit them on social media on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.