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
- Mentors are carefully
- 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
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