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‘I’ll always remain its biggest fan’: Lucy Macnab on founding Hoxton’s Ministry of Stories with Nick Hornby as she prepares for a new chapter

PUBLISHED: 18:32 07 September 2018 | UPDATED: 18:32 07 September 2018

Lucy Macnab in a mentoring workshop. Picture: Yemisi Blake

Lucy Macnab in a mentoring workshop. Picture: Yemisi Blake

Ministry of Stories

Lucy Macnab quit her job in 2010 to set up Ministry of Stories. She tells Emma Bartholomew about the journey to spread “magical weirdness” as she prepares to move on to the Arts Council

Lucy Macnab in a mentoring workshop. Picture: Yemisi BlakeLucy Macnab in a mentoring workshop. Picture: Yemisi Blake

Eight years ago Lucy Macnab took a leap of faith and quit her job at the Southbank Centre to volunteer at the children’s creative writing workshop Ministry of Stories she helped found.

Inspired by Dave Eggers’ 826 movement in America, where volunteer writing mentors inspire children, Lucy “really wanted to see if it could happen in London”.

She enlisted co-founder Ben Payne during a lunch break on a training course where they met, and then Fever Pitch author Nick Hornby.

“I had a funny feeling about Nick,” she said. “We needed to find some people who were well known so we wrote to him, and it turned out he’d been visiting 826 and he was friends with Dave. It was one of those lucky moments in life where you meet up and realise you want to do the same thing.”

Ministry of Stories co-founders Lucy Macnab and Ben Payne outside the Monster Supplies Shop. Picture: Social Enterprise UKMinistry of Stories co-founders Lucy Macnab and Ben Payne outside the Monster Supplies Shop. Picture: Social Enterprise UK

Hidden behind a Monster Supplies shop in Hoxton Street which sells “human snot” and “fang floss” to fund the programme, The Ministry of Stories enlists volunteers who have included the likes of novelists Zadie Smith, Roddy Doyle and Michael Morpurgo. Lucy’s favourite ever project, Share More Air, saw children’s lyrics sent off to a record label, which in turn sent them back as “totally beautiful songs”.

That’s an example of saying, “That’s a writer’s experience,” and we work with writers,” said Lucy. “It just happens they are 8-14 years old, but we want to give them the same experience as people who are top of their game like Nick Hornby.”

Another favourite project, Dead Ends, saw Eastenders lead writer Pete Lawson work to create a “grim and gritty” soap opera with 12-16 year olds. For Lucy the most important thing is giving youngsters a platform to be heard. Some of the books have been published by Penguin while others are showcased in the Monster Supplies shop.

And the Children’s Republic of Shoreditch which saw 150 primary children found their own country, with some becoming secret agents, others writing the law and creating a post office. Letters to the Prime Minister and Queen declaring independence received replies.

Lucy Macnab at the Ministry of Stories. Picture: Miriam DouglasLucy Macnab at the Ministry of Stories. Picture: Miriam Douglas

“It all comes form a really exciting moment when you put a professional writer and educator in a room with young people and see they can write really surprising and unique things,” said Lucy.

“Children feel their sense of achievement, and we know people on our programme become writers. Not a Booker prize writer, but someone who can express their inner voice confidently.
“I’m really interested about what young people have to say about the world and wanted to help them find a way to tell their stories and get real world audience to them..

“My ultimate dream is children who came to the writing clubs would come back and volunteer.”

She hopes to make a difference in her next post at the Arts Council but will always remain the Ministry’s “biggest fan”.

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