I acknowledge the traditional owners of this country, the Whadjuk people, and give thanks for their ongoing custodianship in economic, political and cultural areas. They continue to make this city unique, welcoming, and open, which are all values the Centre for Stories fosters.
Thank you all for coming and welcome to our annual holiday party.
2020 has been a big year – it tested our resilience, shined a light on our common humanity and highlighted existing inequalities. It is important to share this time with you and to remember who our community is.
The pandemic brought home to us the importance of connection and being local. That meant we had a number of projects that were responsive and engaged.
At the start of the lockdown we mailed out poems to our community and started a weekly newsletter. The Centre Weekly – with thoughtful and sensitive introductions by our Creative Director Robert – impacted on people in different ways– it inspired one of our readers to write a song and another said, “Robert’s words spoke to me in a way that touched me deeply and in unexpected ways.”
We brought the Centre Weekly to a close after twelve weeks and introduced Journal which shared three stories a week online and through a weekly newsletter. Journal provided much needed income to writers but more importantly it offered solace to many readers. Over 22 weeks we gave this space over to emerging and established writers. Readers were engaged and very grateful – “I really miss coming in for live Centre for Stories events, but the Journal stories are a great tiny substitute meanwhile,” another said “I loved having the sense of connection in my inbox, the heartfelt and beautifully written pieces, especially in such a difficult year,” and another, who wanted us to know he was a white middle-aged business man, told us “I got to know very different stories of people in Perth, and Australia really, that are very different to what the usual Australian narrative is.“
There was Out of Touch, a collection of 15 COVID stories collected and delivered for the archives of the State Library of WA. It gave voice to front line workers, grieving parents, isolated children, disappointed Olympians and returning citizens. There is the story from Raphael – “and here’s the thing, the old stereotype of autism is that autistic people don’t like being touched or they feel like stranger-danger stuff… I came to the point where I just crawled into a little inflatable couch and I just started crying because I just, I felt really insecure. And also the fact that I couldn’t get a hug from my mum. And so that really hurt me a lot because I really needed my security because I felt very insecure and it just really hurt. I really needed them when things were like getting really shitty. It’s like you were at that point where you really needed a hug from your mum, but you just couldn’t get it.”
Our schools program at Cecil Andrews brought home to us the importance of supporting young voices, and you will hear from some of them today.
Our collaboration with My Place and the Australian Film and Television School provided us with much needed learnings and opportunities for people who live with disabilities.
Finally, there was the launch of To Hold the Clouds – a collection of work by 23 emerging writers who were mentored and who participated in hot desk fellowships as part of the Centre’s Inclusion Matters program. This is a collection of stories of grief and joy and hope, wonder and sadness, shock and violence and possibility. Inclusion Matters has had life changing outcomes for those who participated – Kaya said “Centre for Stories Hot Desk Fellowship provided me with a routine and gave me a reason to leave the house, both of which helped to improve my mental health state, which in turn increased my creative output. The fellowship also gave me a boost in confidence that I needed as an emerging writer to feel that my work was worth supporting.”
We end the year feeling grateful that we got to work on such wonderful projects no matter the challenges. Twenty-twenty-one holds similar possibilities – we have planned an ambitious program.
We begin by training 30 oral storytellers for our annual Backstories festival – a series of storytelling events held in the intimate spaces of suburban backyards. If any of you want to offer your backyard please chat to one of us.
In March we launch a new literary journal, Portside Review, which offers diverse writers living in WA greater engagement with the Indian Ocean Region including readers and editors in Singapore, India and Indonesia.
We hope to build on our schools program at Cecil Andrews College and bring on a new school – Aranmore Catholic College, subject to attracting government, corporate and philanthropic support for the program.
We are incredibly pleased to announce that our signature program for the year Writing change, Writing inclusion, a four-stage, two-year program that supports emerging writers of diverse backgrounds to publication and to become mentors. We aim to raise $100,000 to support the program, have a named residency for a writer and five named hot desk fellowships each year. This program will support and develop fresh and powerful literary voices that would otherwise risk being erased due to lack of access and opportunity. It will help reimagine what it means to be an Australian writer, what it means to tell Australian stories.
We are also very excited to announce that we will undertake our first social impact study. We will be working with Huber Social – independent social impact measurement experts – to measure a universally applicable Wellbeing standard to determine the social impact of the Centre and to identify how to maximise it.
None of this would be possible of course without your support, you are here today because you have invested in us – emotionally, intellectually and financially. This matters to us and we are incredibly grateful. John and I and the staff at the Centre thank all of you. We thank our local creatives, funders and collaborators for enabling us to deliver our programs. I thank the members of our Board, who have provided unwavering support during a difficult year. Finally, I want to thank my colleagues at the Centre – Robert, Sisonke, Claudia, Logan, Jay and Nina who have worked tirelessly to deliver our programs, but more importantly they have been the best brand ambassadors for the Centre.
We look forward to 2021 with excitement and optimism and to having your continued support as you join us along the way – we can only grow and realise these ambitious programs with your support.
Thank you all once again, we wish you and your families an enjoyable and safe festive season.
Centre for Stories Co-Founder and Director Caroline Wood delivered this speech on Tuesday 8 December for invited guests at the Centre for their annual holiday party.