Media Release
Unsung hero: Factory boss wins for inspiring young people
12 September, 2022

Media contact

Matt Levinson

Nearly 45,000 young Sydneysiders have had their lives transformed by the work of Dr Catherine Keenan AM, today named winner of the 2022 Unsung Hero Award.

“I remember when we were starting out, I was running a workshop at a school in Waterloo and the kids were loud and full of energy – but at the end of the program, when I gave them the books with their stories printed in, they went completely quiet.

“I’ve seen the parents of those kids years later, and they still have that book. That was the moment I realised this does mean something.

“People talk about how kids don’t read books anymore, but there is something really powerful about seeing your words printed on the page. We’ve been doing it ever since.”

Story Factory runs free programs for young people in under-resourced communities across Sydney. Nearly 45,000 young people have come through the program since the first centre opened in Redfern 10 years ago – a second opened in Parramatta in 2018.

The Unsung Hero award, supported by award sponsor Coles, was designed to recognise and celebrate people who go under the radar.

Sally Fielke, GM Corporate and Indigenous Affairs at Coles, congratulated Dr Keenan AM for the exceptional contribution she has made to the community: “This award reflects our belief that we can build stronger communities when we work together,” she said. 

“Helping young people read and communicate is essential to helping them express themselves and improve their self-confidence. Story Factory provides a program that improves the health and wellbeing of the community which is something that we are passionate about at Coles.”

Dr Catherine Keenan AM, co-founder and executive director of the Story Factory, was previously a journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald, and has freelanced for publications including the Griffith Review, Times Literary Supplement and Good Weekend.

Catherine Keenan, ED of Story Factory: “You know, stories take you a long way in life. The ability to tell your story, to listen to other people’s stories and share them, it creates community and creates new possibilities in all kinds of ways in a young person’s life.

“Learning to write well is obviously hugely important because you can’t do well at school if you can’t write. But writing is so much more than that. It’s finding your voice, it’s finding a way to express yourself to the world.

“Too many young people feel that they don’t have a story worth listening to. But they have incredible things to say. Once they start to tell their stories, and they’re listened to, you see this transformation – it’s like they stand a little bit taller. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.

“One of the great things about Story Factory turning 10 is that some of these young people have grown up and it’s really wonderful to see the things they’re doing. One is an amazing award-winning novelist, another is a town planner, someone else is working at a radio station.”

Sara Mansour, co-founder and director of the Bankstown Poetry Slam, legal counsel for Settlement Services International, and a member of the Sydney Awards judging panel: “Story Factory’s been giving a voice to some of Sydney’s most vulnerable kids for a long time, it’s incredible work because what it can do is give them a sense of hope.

“What really stands out with their programs is the depth of care and the community connection they have present. If you go there, it’s designed amazingly and really feels like a welcoming space for young people to be able to thrive in a creative environment.

“Cath champions so many other people’s voices, it’s really nice to be able to champion her and honour the legacy she’s created and all the sacrifices she’s made along the way.

Designed to celebrate people whose efforts make Sydney the greatest city in the world, there are five categories: Global Sydney, Western Sydney Champion, City Visionary, Emerging Leader, and Unsung Hero.

The eminent judging panel for the awards include:

  • Ann Sherry AO – Chair Unicef Australia and Enero Australia
  • Usman Iftikhar – CEO of Catalysr, and winner of the 2021 Western Sydney Champion Award
  • Sara Mansour – Founder Bankstown Poetry Slam, Lawyer at Settlement Services International
  • Eric Knight – Executive Dean at Macquarie Business School, and Professor of Strategic Management
  • Tanya Hosch – Executive General Manager of Inclusion and Social Policy, AFL
  • Mike Baird AO – CEO HammondCare, and former Premier of NSW.

The Sydney Awards are supported by major partner Macquarie Business School, and award sponsors Aurecon, Coles, ISPT Super Property, KPMG and Mirvac Design.