“It is really amazing what happens here. There are so many different and exciting ways of learning”. Kiki is one of the seven or so volunteers who are helping tonight at Hackney Pirates. And she is not wrong. My visit has made me long to be a ten-year-old again.
Hackney Pirates is a local initiative that focuses on developing children’s literacy skills in a creative way. With the help of volunteers the Pirates runs every day after school for two and a half hours. Today the children are recording poetry. Impressively, the theme is ‘onomatopoeia’, which every child can also successfully spell.
The Hackney Pirates takes its inspiration from the acclaimed writer Dave Eggers’ successful San Francisco-based learning centre “826 Valencia”, where local writers work with children to develop their reading and writing skills.
Catriona Maclay, Pirates Director and a former teacher, started the charity in 2010 after hearing about theUSscheme. “One to one attention is powerful, but it doesn’t necessarily need to come from a teacher. Sometimes teachers focus on either the top performers or under achievers. Often the kids in the middle, who are trying, can be overlooked”.
The place itself doesn’t look or feel like a conventional learning environment. The den, appropriately resembling Captain Jack’s quarters, is where the young pirates come together to share their work. The pirates even have their own recording studio, which will be used later for their poetry performance.
Beside us lies the remains of a music video. “Eight local bands submitted a song and the children picked one to make a music video for”, Catriona tells me. “Half their time here is spent completing things like homework, while the other half is working on creative projects like that one”.
Every creative project results in some form of professional output, be that a comic book, t shirt, short film or music video. “In April, the children launched their own T-shirt range which featured photos, pictures and poetry that they created. It was part of our young pirate apprentice scheme”.
The ability to run such projects comes from the vast volunteer network the Pirates have built up. There are 300 people trained, with over 100 actively volunteering. However, with one volunteer per child, and up to 20 children attending every evening, this broad network is very much needed.
But it is not only about volunteer numbers here. Hackney is home to more artists and creative workers than anywhere else inEurope. “We are in the centre of all this creativity. We really aim to make the most of this amazing community”.
Hackney Pirates is always looking for new volunteers of all ages and backgrounds. Volunteers can be involved in a range of activities, from working with children to fundraising. Volunteering with the crew is flexible, and they only request a minimum commitment of one afternoon a month. No previous experience is necessary as full training is provided. If you are interested in helping out in any way, please check out http://www.hackneypirates.org or contact Catriona and the crew at firstname.lastname@example.org