Inspired by 826

Tim Rich on a new writing centre for London

A while back I saw Dave Eggers’ remarkable TED talk in which he described 826 Valencia, a San Francisco-based writing and tutoring lab he created for young people, especially those marginalised by other forms of education. The idea and the initiative has grown. 826 National is now a non-profit tutoring, writing, and publishing organisation with centres in eight cities across the US. You can read morehere.

So I was excited to hear that a group of educators, designers and writers are now working together on a new 826 initiative for East London. The aim is to start up a new writing project and centre for young people in Tower Hamlets. Along with the accidental but happy numerical connection, 826 seems to be very close in spirit to 26 and some of the projects we run. I asked the initiators of the London project to let us know what they’re doing. Lucy Macnab describes their progress below. If you’d like to get involved, or help in any way, just send Lucy or Ben a message. If you have an idea for a specific 26/826 project, drop a line to me, timrich26@hot

Lucy: ‘The idea behind the project in a nutshell: Eggers’ teacher friends told him that the one thing lacking with their English students, particularly those with literacy issues and those for whom English was a second language, was one-on-one time. Eggers’ guess was that there would be enough people among his writer friends who would be willing to volunteer some of their time to help out. The idea gathered support. However, the city authorities told him that the space he wanted to use at 826 Valencia Street in the city was zoned for retail: he couldn’t just open it as a “school”. So, inspired by the place’s ship-like interior, he opened it as “a Pirate Supply Store”, where you could buy everything that a self-respecting pirate would need – from replacement peg-legs to bird-seed for your parrot. The ‘shop’ does indeed sell things, but it serves as a high street front for a writing centre where young people go to work with writers, improve their writing and language skills, and put together anthologies which then go on to be published.

Lucy Macnab and Ben Payne, along with a group of associates, have been developing plans for a London based project for some time. Tower Hamlets Council, as well as local community groups and organisations, have been very supportive and interested in the idea. They have secured funds from the Arts Council and JJ Sainsbury Foundation to cover piloting the project for 6 months. The aim is to create a permanent centre. Writers, designers, journalists, youth workers and policy strategists are involved already, and all are very motivated to volunteer their time and expertise.

The missing link is the right space. We’re looking for a landlord or developer who is inspired by the project, and sees the value of using empty space for six months for a creative and high profile project.

We’d love to make a link with 26’s members, whether they’d like to help as volunteer writing tutors, running a workshop, getting involved in product design for the shop, or helping us market ourselves. While we focus on finding a home for the pilot and setting up shop, there won’t be active volunteering roles with young writers, but we’re keeping in touch with our growing band of volunteers on our blog, Word in Progress: and via a facebook group, Inspired by 826.

If you’d like to be a part of the project, please do contact either me, Lucy Macnab,, or Ben Payne, . Or join the facebook group to keep in touch.

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