Story Factory

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The Story Factory is an Australian not-for-profit organisation designed to help indigenous and disadvantaged children aged between 7 and 17 years to develop their writing and storytelling skills. The programs run by the Story Factory aim to help young people, particularly those most at risk of losing confidence and then losing interest in schooling. The Story Factory conducts programs at its two creative writing centres, as short and long term residencies at primary and secondary schools, and as one-off visits.

The Story Factory began in 2012 as the Sydney Story Factory in Redfern, in inner city Sydney. The organisation changed its name to the Story Factory at the opening of their second site in Paramatta to the west of Sydney in October 2018.

Paramatta Creative Writing Centre


In 2010 the co-founders of the Story Factory, Catherine Keenan AM and Tim Dick, heard Dave Eggers give a TED talk about 826 Valencia and they were inspired to set up something similar in Sydney. They flew to San Francisco and visited 826 Valencia to learn as much as they could about its model. Unlike 826 Valencia, The Story Factory does not provide homework help, but focuses on creative writing.[1][2]

As a not-for-profit organisation that relies on volunteers and donations for support, it took approximately 18 months to get the first site of The Story Factory operational. The initial volunteers' meeting drew a crowd of 200 people.[1]

Between its opening in 2012 and October 2018, approximately 16,000 students participated in the programs.[3] In 2018 they had 1050 active volunteer writing tutors and were seeing approximately 800 children per week.[4]

Philosophy and operation[edit]

The Story Factory focuses on creative writing rather than the homework help provided in the original 826 Valencia program. This philosophy is based on discussion with local teachers who said that there is much less space for creativity in the Australian curriculum now.[1]

The University of Sydney conducted an evaluation of the student involvement in the Story Factory from 2014 to 2016. The study looked at the development of writing skills, self-confidence, engagement in learning, and enthusiasm for creative writing. The study used case study methodology and also pre- and post-program surveys. A total of 88 students were surveyed and from these 10 were the subject of detailed case studies. The evaluation showed that students felt positive about the program and believed it helped with school work. It showed the students gained empowerment and grew in self-knowledge and self-awareness. Students who participated in several workshops grew their creative writing skills often to a higher level than would be expected of their grade or stage.[5][6][7]

An evaluation of the in-schools residency programs run by the Story Factory found a "notable shift in writing confidence and enjoyment" in all five schools involved and this was particularly strong among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants.[8]

Former board member of The Story Factory, Professor Robyn Ewing, stated that "education is possibly the most critical factor in alleviating disadvantage, and the Story Factory strives to change the lives of young people, especially those from marginalised backgrounds, through creative writing and storytelling."[9]

The Story Factory is supported by a variety of people. This includes three former Australian Prime Ministers: Julia Gillard and Tony Abbot who appeared is a video for the Story Factory in 2011[10] and Malcolm Turnbull through the Turnbull Foundation.[11] It has also conducted four art auctions in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017[12][13][14] The auctions have received donations from six Archibald Prize winners: Kathryn Del Barton, Fiona Lowry, Nigel Milsom, Mitch Cairns, Euan Macleod and Wendy Sharpe.[15][16][17] In 2017 the auction also included 2016 Archibald Prize finalist Abdul Abdullah, and another 45 artists.[18]


Catherine Keenan is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Sydney Story Factory. In 2016 she was recognised as Australian of The Year, Local Hero for her work with the Story Factory.[19] Keenan was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2019 for "significant service to children as an advocate for improving literacy, and to the community of Redfern."[20]

The Story Factory has a Director and Storyteller-in-Chief at each location. Richard Short, Storyteller-in Chief at Redfern, has led workshops for teachers to improve their understanding of the creative process and also to teach them the vocabulary used at The Story Factory.[21] Bilal Hafda, Storyteller-in-Chief at Parramatta, won a $10,000 grant when he became the Westfield Local Hero in 2018. "The Story Factory will use its $10,000 Westfield Local Heroes grant to fund two eight-week creative writing programs for as many as 60 participants. This includes payment of the workshop leader, volunteer tutor training, workshop materials and publishing of the student stories."[22]

Story Spaces[edit]

Martian Embassy, Redfern


The Story Factory first opened in Redfern in 2012. The Story Factory is accessed through the Martian Embassy, whose design was awarded the 2013 NSW Premiers prize by the Australian Institute of Architects.[23] The idea is a spinoff from 826 Valencia that has a Pirate Supply Shop as its front.[10] Keenan stated that the kids and the volunteers loved the design and the staff liked the idea of going to another world. The Martian Embassy is the retail arm of the Story Factory.[24][25] The shop then opens into the creative space.


Paramatta Story Factory

In 2016 more than 25% of the students attending the Redfern creative space travelled from Western Sydney.[26] Western Sydney has the largest indigenous population is the country and many new immigrants. With the assistance of a grant from the Commonwealth Government and other donations, the Parramatta location opened in October 2018.[27] The building at 88-92 George Street is heritage listed. Refurbishing to make it a suitable workshop space involved consideration of heritage requirements.[28] The space was shortlisted for 2019 public design by the Australian Interior Design Awards [29]

School Residency Programs[edit]

The Story Factory runs year long residency programs with local schools, at both Primary and Secondary levels. The first residency program lasted for a full school term at the Briar Road Public School in Campbelltown.[26] In 2017 Canterbury Boys High was given a 12-month Story Factory residency program.[30] The program was recognised in the 2018 NSW Department of Education Minister's and Secretary's Award for Excellence when Canterbury Boys High as awarded the 2018 Secretary's Award for Outstanding School Initiative.[31]

Novella Program[edit]

In 2016 The Story Factory initiated a pilot Novella Program and selected children aged between 12 and 16 to write a novella of between 20,000 and 30,000 words. The works were published by The Story Factory in December 2016.[32] The program is continuing.[26] The 2016 and 2017 novellas were published by the Story Factory. One of the 2017 novellas, Coconut Children[33] by Vivian Pham, has been expanded and published by Penguin Random House.[34]


  1. ^ a b c "Sydney Story Factory | Live Better". Live Better. Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  2. ^ "Sydney Story Factory - Dusseldorp Forum". Dusseldorp Forum. Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  3. ^ "'They've got stories in their head': Creative writing program expands to western Sydney". ABC News. 20 October 2018. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  4. ^ "Home". Sydney Story Factory. Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  5. ^ "Creativity and creative writing: The sydney story factory experience · Australian Association for Research in Education - article abstract". Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  6. ^ "(PDF) Sydney Story Factory: Workshop Program Evaluation Summary". ResearchGate. Retrieved 10 November 2018.
  7. ^ Ewing, R; Manuel, J; Mortimer, A (2015). "Chapter 8: Imaginative children's literature, educational drama and creative writing". In Turbill, Jan; Barton, Georgina; Brock, Cynthia (eds.). Teaching Writing in Today's Classrooms: Looking Back to Look Forward. Norwood, South Australia:Australian Literacy Educators' Association. pp. 107–122. ISBN 978-0-977-5468-5-5.
  8. ^ Wilson, Pete; Fisher, Natalie (2018). Evaluation of Creative Writing In-School Residency Programs; 2017 Primary School Mid-point findings (PDF). NSF Consulting. p. 3.
  9. ^ "Story Factory tells a strong tale". The University of Sydney. Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  10. ^ a b Molitorisz, Sacha (14 October 2011). "How a 10-year-old boy got the PM and Mr Abbott together". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 28 October 2018.
  11. ^ "Partners". Sydney Story Factory. Retrieved 5 November 2018.
  12. ^ "Cover versions a tribute to strong stories". The Sydney Morning Herald. 29 November 2011. Retrieved 6 November 2018.
  13. ^ "Redfern Story Factory launches childrens' book comp". 6 November 2018.
  14. ^ "Fine Lines | What's On - City of Sydney". What's On - City of Sydney. Retrieved 6 November 2018.
  15. ^ "If you can tell a story..." 32auctions. Retrieved 7 November 2018.
  16. ^ "Fine Lines". 32auctions. Retrieved 7 November 2018.
  17. ^ "Sydney Story Factory - Judge a Book Buy its Cover". 32auctions. Retrieved 7 November 2018.
  18. ^ "Sydney Story Factory: Multicultural heartland set to benefit from writing group". SBS News. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  19. ^ "Dr Catherine Keenan". Australian of the Year Awards. 2016. Retrieved 21 February 2022.
  20. ^ "2019 Queen's Birthday Honours List | Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia". Retrieved 19 October 2019.
  21. ^ "Storytelling workshop sees teachers embrace their creative sides — EducationHQ Australia". Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  22. ^ "Story - Bilal Hafda: Sydney Story Factory". Retrieved 28 October 2018.
  23. ^ "Community focused projects take first place at NSW Architecture Awards". News & Media. 28 June 2013. Retrieved 19 October 2019.
  24. ^ "Gift Shop for Sydney Story Factory". Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  25. ^ "Sydney Story Factory | Things to do in Redfern, Sydney". Time Out Sydney. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  26. ^ a b c "Catherine Keenan's year as Australia's Local Hero". ABC News. 23 January 2017. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  27. ^ "'They've got stories in their head': Creative writing program expands to western Sydney". ABC News. 20 October 2018. Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  28. ^ "Glue Society and Lava team up to launch Parramatta's Dreamlab". Mumbrella. 29 October 2018. Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  29. ^ "Australian Interior Design Awards". Retrieved 19 October 2019.
  30. ^ "This school is using Shakespeare slam poetry to get boys to embrace literature". ABC News. 16 November 2017. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  31. ^ "Canterbury Boys High School wins Award for Sydney Story Factory Partnership!". Sydney Story Factory. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  32. ^ Morris, Linda (12 December 2016). "Sydney Story Factory takes teens from playground to published authors". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  33. ^ Pham, Vivian Pham (2017). The Coconut Children. Sydney: Penguin Random House. ISBN 9780648177845.
  34. ^ "The Coconut Children ebook by Vivian Pham - Rakuten Kobo". Rakuten Kobo. Retrieved 23 October 2018.

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