“Write everything impossible” – Andy Long

Posted by Bhavani Esapathi on 27th February 2018

We are indebted to our volunteers in multiple ways so every month we like to celebrate one of them as our Minister of the Month. This February, we’re proud to showcase a few words from Andy Long to say thank you and we are very blessed to have you as part of our extended family.

Hi! My name is Andy Long and I am a Writing Mentor and Illustrator for Ministry of Stories living in Brixton.

I was raised in extra south London, round the back of the shopping centre, by hedgehogs. When I was slightly bigger, I fled to become a milkman, because I liked their slow electric carts. They were so slow they were called floats. I’m not sure they even floated. But I failed the milkman exam and had to go to art college instead. I now work as a designer, but I would rather be doing something impractical and silly. I decided to volunteer with the Ministry because I’ve always loved stories; telling them, reading them to my kids (when they were story-sized) and making them up. I wanted to spend more time working with stories, so I googled ‘stories, Colin, children, peaches, London’. That wasn’t very helpful, but eventually I found Hoxton Street Monster Supplies and the Ministry – I couldn’t quite believe how wonderful it was that such a thing exists.

I was overwhelmed by how encouraging, welcoming and accepting the Ministry team are. I felt nurtured and fully supported to give whatever I could. This I found truly wonderful. For example, I really did not think I would be good enough at drawing to take on the illustrator role. And I’m not. But we all pretend I am and have great fun. Kids are very accepting of whatever half-baked scribbles I emit. And, for me, it is the energy we create together in those sessions that makes it the most beautiful space. There have been many wonderful experiences volunteering at the Ministry but one of the more memorable ones for me is, perhaps the sweetest you could say was when a boy turned to me, after hearing the grumpy chief on the radio, and said “I think he just needs a friend”. I melted.

The most unexpectedly pleasant experience though has to be that feeling, of being viewed by staff and children as valued for everything I can bring, that was unexpected to me. It has given me confidence and hope.

I was looking for something that would engage the part of my life that I felt was unused. A need for unrestrained joy, expression without limits, permission to be stupid and a space to share these experiences with others. I didn’t even know if such a place existed. When I began volunteering at the Ministry I felt connected to a special place that I had not known before.

Schools are under huge pressure to manage children’s needs and deliver to targets. Under these conditions the first thing to go is the time for individual attention. Just by listening and encouraging, you can give a child the support they need to tell their story. It’s an amazing gift that the Ministry brings to the community. Your experience and time is incredibly valuable to children, who may never have considered themselves able to tell stories. And the reward you will get from the children is both unexpected and inspiring. If you’re thinking about volunteering, I would definitely drop the Ministry a message. 

My favourite story…

Chapter 6 of Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne, called ‘In which Eeyore has a birthday and gets two presents’. This story is perfect; nothing much happens, in a careful manner. It is full of things that go wrong and which are seen as having gone just fine. It uses grown-up language to describe the world to children and resists the temptation to make things needlessly optimistic. My favourite line comes when Pooh asks Owl to write ‘happy birthday’ on a pot. Pooh can’t do it “Because my spelling is wobbly. It’s good spelling but it wobbles”.
NEXT PAGE: Minister of the Month: Peggy Aylett