Located deep in the heart of Hoxton, with its entrance hidden just behind a shelf of monster supplies, the Ministry of Stories delivers learning like never before. Serving as the “Official Inspiration to the Nation”, the Ministry is dedicated to fueling an interest in creative writing amongst children. Made possible through the efforts and commitment of a range of adult volunteers and mentors, the Ministry of Stories was founded by author Nick Hornby and co-directors Lucy Macnab and Ben Payne.
Ministry of Stories
"It's just great to have all of this information that's essential to what we do in one place. We're completely dependent on our network of volunteers, and FileMaker helps us to understand, value and keep in touch with them." says Lucy Macnab, Founder and co-director of Ministry of Stories.
FileMaker delivers the write stuff at Ministry of Stories
FileMaker database makes an immediate difference.
- Needed to spend valuable time serving as the “Official Inspiration to the Nation” and not dealing with a spreadsheet having 900 lines of data.
- Education: set up with the aim of helping young people to bring their ideas to life.
- FileMaker pools all of the Ministry’s data on their extensive volunteer network into one centralised location.
- Ministry of Stories no longer needs to worry about having data scattered across a rudimentary database.
“We only have two full time members of staff, so we’re absolutely dependent on the contributions from our volunteers,” explains Lucy Macnab. “In fact, it’s not overstating it to say that they’re the major reason for our success so far.” It’s been a very rapid success too for the Ministry of Stories, having only launched in November 2010. In just a few months however, they already had some 200 volunteers signed-up, mainly through word of mouth.
Inspired by San Francisco’s 826 Valencia project, itself a creative writing and mentoring scheme founded by writer Dave Eggers and teacher Nínive Calegari, the Ministry of Stories was set up with the aim of helping young people to bring their ideas to life. Running around five workshops per week, the Ministry encourages children and young adults to express their creativity through writing. In this digital age, that writing also extends far beyond the printed page and into the realms of video games and online journalism too.
It was when the Ministry of Stories put out an official call for help from volunteers that the nature of the organisation began to change. Having previously managed their list of mentors using a “very messy” spreadsheet, the overwhelming response from new volunteers quickly put the Ministry in a more information intensive position.
“It was incredible,” continues Lucy. “We had around 700 responses to our request for more volunteers. That was amazing, but it meant that we suddenly had more than four times the amount of information to keep track of.” As well as basic data such as contact details, Lucy and her team also needed to take note of when volunteers were able to help, what their experience and specialties were and – since they were going to be working with children – whether they had completed a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check.
As a start-up, one of the most important things for us was that the system was cost-effective as well as being able to do what we needed it to.Lucy Macnab, Founder and co-director, Ministry of Stories
The FileMaker solution:
“When you’re using a basic spreadsheet, having 900 lines of data to work through is very little fun,” says Lucy. “So when one of our volunteers - a software developer by trade - mentioned FileMaker, we started to look into it.” A download of a free trial of FileMaker followed, which allowed the Ministry to play around with the system and make sure that it was for them. “Our friendly developer volunteer had already used FileMaker, so he got us started and we went from there,” she explains.
Once it was up and running, the FileMaker database made an immediate difference. Pooling all of the Ministry’s data on their extensive volunteer network into one centralised location, FileMaker also helped with the planning of their workshop programme. By allowing the team to cross-reference information on skills and experience to areas of interest and availability, the Ministry was able to tap into the potential of the people offering to help.
FileMaker also hit the mark in several other areas for Lucy and the Ministry. “As a start-up, one of the most important things for us was that the system was cost-effective as well as being able to do what we needed it to,” she says. Lucy also cites its flexibility as one of FileMaker’s major benefits, allowing for the database to evolve as the Ministry does.
The Ministry of Stories is looking for funding to help secure the future of its work in Hoxton and further afield. To find out how you can become part of the story as a volunteer or supporter, contact Lucy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- All in one – The Ministry of Stories no longer needs to worry about having data scattered across a rudimentary database. Instead, it’s all brought together in one beautifully.
- Simple, flexible, affordable – FileMaker isn’t just for those with a PhD in advanced mathematics – it’s easy for the rest of us to use too. Better still, it comes with a price tag that even the newest of start-ups can afford.
- An involved network – By allowing for simple cross-referencing of any information held in the database, the Ministry of Stories can quickly match volunteers with the right skills and availability to its programme.
- Future looking – FileMaker provides the Ministry with flexibility into the future, offering a simple-to-customise toolset and enabling it to continue developing the system no matter how its needs change.
Photos: Feature © Yemisi Blake. Zingoula by Ben Newman © Alistair Hall. Nick Hornby reading © Miriam Douglas. Tinned Fear - The Collywobbles shelf © Alistair Hall.