Ministry of Stories & Hoxton Street Monster Supplies

So, we’ve been kinda quiet here of late on the We Made This blog (for which you have our deepest apologies) but we can now reveal why – we’ve been entirely occupied with setting up a fantastic new project.

It’s a bit of an epic tale, so, if you’re sitting comfortably, we’ll begin…

Way back in April 2008 we posted on our old blog about Dave Eggers’ inspiring TED talk about his brilliant 826 literacy project, and asked if anyone was going to be setting up something similar in London. On the back of that post, thanks to Andrew Hinton, we met up with the wonderful Lucy Macnab and Ben Payne, and chatted loosely about how a London version of 826 might work. Things pootled along gently for a while, until Lucy and Ben secured support for the project from the Arts Council, as well as seed-funding from the JJ Charitable Trust, and things suddenly stepped up a gear, particularly when author Nick Hornby, who had been thinking about setting up something similar himself, joined the gang.

Cut to November 2010, after many, many, many meetings, and gargantuan efforts from Nick, Lucy and Ben (and a veritable host of others), and this morning saw the launch of the Ministry of Stories on Hoxton Street in east London.

The Ministry follows the model of the 826 centres: a writing centre where kids aged 8-18 can get one-to-one tuition with professional writers and other volunteers; with the centres being housed behind fantastical shop fronts designed to fire the kids’ imaginations (and generate income for the writing centres).

In our case, the shop is Hoxton Street Monster Supplies – Purveyor of Quality Goods for Monsters of Every Kind.

The shop was established in 1818, and ever since then has served the daily needs of London’s extensive monster community.

Step inside, and you’ll find a whole range of essential products for monsters.

You can pick from a whole range of Tinned Fears (each of which comes with a specially commissioned short story from authors including Nick Hornby and Zadie Smith), a selection of Human Preserves, and a variety of other really rather fine goods.

This is our favourite product though (unsurprisingly, it’s a real delicacy amongst monsters):

The project has been an utter joy to work on, letting us flex both our design and our writing muscles in equal measure; as well as working with a fantastic team of collaborators including architects, writers, designers, dramaturgs (look it up) and others.

Anyway, once you’re done shopping, you might notice that the shelves hide a secret – a disguised entrance that opens onto the Ministry of Stories.

The Ministry is designed to feel really special: the space was architected brilliantly by Andrew LockCatherine Grieg and David Ogunmuyiw; with fantastic wall illustrations by the very lovely Heather Sloane.

The identity for the Ministry itself grew out of an extensive series of branding workshops where hundreds of names for the project were mulled over. Lots of Post-It notes later, we eventually gravitated towards a group of names that had a slightly tongue-in-cheek air of authority about them. Alistair then happened to stumble upon his grandmother’s old post-war ration book, featuring the Ministry of Food logo, and that was that. The Ministry had found its name, mood, and identity.

The Ministry has already hosted a series of workshops with local children, all of whom seem to have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. And the press, including BBC NewsThe Today Programme, and The Guardian, have naturally enough, taken a fair interest.

You can follow more about the Ministry (and get involved!) on the MoS website (designed by Manifest), the MoS Facebook page, and the MoS Twitter feed. Check out more pictures of the Ministry over on Alistair’s MoS Flickr set.

We’re dead chuffed to have been involved in such a fantastically exciting and collaborative project. It’s utterly inspirational to see how freely people have given their skills and time to the project. (A big shout to Benwells, Robert Horne, Fenner Paper and Colorset UVI by the way – cheers gang!)

And if you’re out and about over the weekend, do drop by…