SECRET TRAPDOOR IN THE HEART OF FOOTSCRAY

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By Dijana Necovski

It’s no secret that Footscray is rich with good food, culture and diversity. It’s a place where hot jam donuts are famous, bags of coriander cost less than one dollar, and the mortadella from Michael’s Deli 
is as soft as butter. But, it’s not just about the food and being home to the much-loved Western Bulldogs. Footscray has many more secrets worth discovering; you just need to know where to look for them.

If you take a stroll down to the Hopkins Street end of Nicholson Street Mall, you’ll find one of these secrets. 100 Story Building, or 100 SB as it’s fondly referred to, has been in the ’hood for almost four years now. It’s still not as well known as the iconic Olympic Doughnuts – though we admit it’s tough to compete with sugar coated fried dough.

This progressive writing centre aimed at marginalised children
 of the west has one clear mission: to provide opportunities for young people in the community to build literacy skills, confidence and establish a sense of belonging. It’s because of this simple vision that the centre has become such a huge success.

Lachlann Carter, the CEO and co-founder of 100 SB, still can’t believe how far they’ve come. It was only a few years ago Lachlann was a part-time pirate on the good ship lollipop, Polly Woodside, down at the Docklands, while studying teaching. After doing his placement at Footscray West Primary School, he saw how under-resourced the teachers were and how inefficient and challenging the education system could be. Though he decided he didn’t want to be a classroom teacher, Lachlann was certain that the education space was where he wanted to be, he just wasn’t sure exactly what it was that he’d be doing.

It wasn’t until he and his partner, Jenna Williams, saw Dave Eggers at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival that they knew what their next project would be. Dave, author of the best- selling memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and the co-founder of 826 Valencia, a non-profit committed to supporting young adults develop their writing skills, was the main inspiration behind 100 SB. A few years after seeing Dave, Lachlann and Jenna moved to San Francisco to complete a three-month internship at 826 Valencia.

“It was amazing and challenging,” says Lachlann of their time in San Francisco. “We started playing around with ideas on what we could do, and spent our nights planning a program. We sat down with the folks at 826 and picked their brains.” Fast forward to September 2013 and the doors to what once was a “pipe dream” – 100 Story Building – officially opened in the heart of Footscray.

This is the first time Lachlann, Jenna and their friend Jessica Tran, had ever created a space like this. They’d worked together previously in a not-for-profit organisation, but this time, they needed to make money in order to establish 100 SB. Though they had a strong network of teachers and friends in publishing that would volunteer their time and knowledge, Lachlann admits, “We had no idea how to raise money for a business.” After chatting with the staff at Maribyrnong Council, the 100 SB team decided that becoming a social enterprise would best fit the centre’s needs. This meant that profits they made from paid programs they held during school holidays could fund and support the free programs they provided during the school term. The centre also receives support and donations from organisations such as The Ian Potter Foundation, Brimbank City Council, and the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, just to name a few.

One of the free programs on offer involves the kids writing, editing and publishing a magazine called Early Harvest. While many of the programs are about writing and storytelling, 
the kids are also encouraged to use illustrations such as comic strips in order to create a story without using words.

In addition, the centre provides professional development workshops that focus on supporting the teachers in building literacy programs in a way that’s creative and engaging to the students.

In its first year 100 SB programs reached over 1,000 students. By the end of 2016, that will have grown to over 5,000 students. That’s some pretty extraordinary numbers, for what appears to be an ordinary building in the west.

At first glance the home of 100 SB seems like a regular building. There is no indication of what’s behind the doors, but as you take a closer look there are hints of the less ordinary. Posters hang in the windows with rules from the Level 87 Bookclub: “NO HATING!” stands out in bold letters, and an illustration of the 99 levels below the building decorates part of the window.

Once inside prepare to be overwhelmed by a strong desire 
to head down the famous trapdoor in search of the other
 99 storeys. You’ll need a machete to cut back the jungle growing above it, but don’t let that deter you from entering the unlimited levels of your imagination.

It’s an amazing space, and to imagine what was once a “super boring” council office with flickering fluorescent lights and 
grey carpet made for giving you carpet burn is now a kingdom for young writers. Stories by the students hang on the walls and bookshelves are packed full of inspiration. Look a little closer and you’ll find illustrations that were once dropped and forgotten by the kids hiding safely under the carpet.

It’s these fundamental quirks that make this place so unique and special. During their time at 826, Lachlann and his partners learned that it was important to create a space the kids would find disarming, “especially when you want to get them in the creative headspace.”

So, exactly how do they get kids who aren’t interested in reading or writing to visit a literacy centre?

At 100 Story Building you will find: 100 levels of inspiration; 32 chairs ready to be sat in; one time machine busily transporting letters to the future; one trapdoor begging to be opened; and a group of young writers huddled around a table, scribbling down their ideas while sneaking glances at the trapdoor, searching for their next adventure.

100 Story Building is at 92 Nicholson Street, Footscray.

For general enquiries or information about volunteering, email info@100storybuilding.org.au, or phone 9044 8215.

 

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