Occasionally I go and help out at the Ministry of Stories. The Ministry of Stories is in a secret location, hidden behind the Monster Supply Store, Hoxton, London. It may all sound a little odd for an academic but then when you remember that I write for children and young adults and that I do this as part of my job as a senior lecturer at the University of Salford and when you also remember that David Eggers kick-started the Ministry of Stories it all sounds a little more reasonable.
And thankfully, it remains whacky.
Just over a week ago a missive came from the Ministry. It was along the lines of “Help, we’ve over-ordered milk tooth chocolate and need to shift it fast. We’re selling it at £1.00 a bar. Please buy.”
Who could resist?
I ordered five bars and a curse to boot. By the time I’d paid postage I was looking at about £8.00. My curse was simply “Bad luck!” Ah well.
The Monster Supply store sells good quality goods repackaged. The milk tooth chocolate is actually luxury milk chocolate full of roasted nut chips. “Banshee balls” are aniseeds balls. “Salt made from sneezing” is a mixture of sea salt and ground black pepper. “Cubed earwax” is clotted cream fudge.
When school groups visit the Ministry, children will spend a little in the shop. The main customers however, are supportive adults who use the mail order facility and some of the adult visitors who come to the store and the Ministry.
Magic and practicality
It does heighten the mystery for the children who visit: having to sneak in through the back door of the shop. However, it was originally an accident. When Eggers obtained the funding and the first set premises, he was told by the planners that the area was meant to be for retail. The inside of the building he’d found reminded him of a ship so he decided to front the writing school with a pirate supply store.
What the Ministry does
The aim is to improve literacy skills in children who lack confidence, particularly in the writing skills. We all have a story we can tell and the ability to write it. Different children will need different sorts of and amounts of scaffolding. The Ministry has some unique features in relation to this.
- Mentors are carefully trained.
- Often there are just two or three children to one mentor.
- Mentors are carefully briefed before each session and debriefed afterwards. This can add up to an hour to each session – sometimes taking up on third of the total time. This works very well and is worth the effort.
Most of the people who work for the shop and the Ministry are volunteers and are not paid. There are a few staff members, paid or by various grants. Writers and artists tend to offer their services for free. Creative practitioners have to be clear about why they do this but it is in the end always a good line on the CV.
I’ve not volunteered for a while and must get round to doing it again. I’m always glad to support. By the way, the milk tooth chocolate was delicious.