For 17 years Mosaic LGBT+ Youth Centre has been an invaluable source of support and information for over 7500 young people. Originally based in Kilburn, followed by a stint in Camden, they decided, in January this year, to move to the more central shores of Euston.
From their new home, the volunteer-run organisation continues to empower, educate and support LGBT+ people through their adolescence, which let’s face it – despite many advances – still isn’t exactly a stroll in the park in the heteronormative society we call home.
The organisation’s work is of paramount importance for kids in and around the area, from creating a completely safe space where they can find their feet while forming crucial connections with others in their community, to offering one-to-one mentoring sessions discussing anything from family conflict to relationship woes. It also provides workshops aimed at helping them to better understand and constructively challenge imposed conceptions of gender and race.
“We’re helping to form the proud, strong and creative LGBT+ community of the future,” says Lukasz Konieczka, who manages the centre and has been a youth worker for ten years.
It should be mentioned that the debilitating cuts to Mosaic’s funding a couple of years back could have brought the organisation to a grinding halt had Lukasz not been positioned at the helm.
We popped by recently, and from the onset experienced the energy, commitment, flamboyance and passion he brings to the centre, from offering a cup of tea in a mad-hatters tea party style saucer, to jokingly bellowing “it’s time for the Parish announcements” before the weekly group session begins, to catching a glimpse of his sincerity and concern during his one-to-one mentoring sessions with each attendee.Indeed, mentoring is an important part of Mosaic’s work. “Whoever comes to us, whatever their needs may be, it is up to us to understand, support and work with them,” he says, “it is always our job.”
The bulk of these sessions take place in the centre’s reading room, a tranquil space laden with essential queer literature, from Sarah Waters to Oscar Wilde. Here, the team also offer mentoring for parents, providing them with info to better relate to and support their child.
As with all youth centres, Mosaic’s primary focus is on the social and cultural benefits of becoming a member. This need is heightened with an LGBT+ specific centre; the need to know and understand your history is crucial for a member of an oft-marginalised, minority group.
As such, Mosaic offer free or heavily subsidised trips to exhibitions, movies and theatre. “These trips, which have recently included Kinky Boots and the Danish Girl, have been highly valuable and enriching. They are essential for countering heteronormative perceptions of society.”
Alongside this, the Mosaic team have pioneered multiple schemes for young Londoners. Three years ago, they set up the UK’s first LGBT+ summer camp and have regular winter retreats in the February half term to compliment this. Similarly, after hearing a lot of their members agonise over the prospect of going to their schools’ prom, the centre set up the UK’s first and only annual Pride Prom for under 18s.
On top of this, the group are in the final stages of negotiations with the London Gay Men’s Chorus to create the first ever LGBT+ youth choir. The groups initially collaborated last year as part of the Sing Out project. This saw them write and release ‘Teacher Teacher’, a song expressing their frustrations with the slow progress in formal education surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity.In a similar vein, the centre’s educational outreach programme is crucial to what they do, currently supporting 250 young LGBT+ people annually and double that amount of non-LGBT folk. Their outreach team delivers workshops challenging homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, teacher training and workshops with school and college students, to “account for the lack of emphasis placed on LGBT+ education in schools,” says Lukasz.
So what’s the most rewarding part of his job? “Do you have a week?” says Lukasz, smiling. “It is the whole process,” he continues, “the transformation of having someone come in feeling lonely and as time goes by watching them engage, interact and before long, flourish. Crucially, it is knowing that we are creating a healthier and happier next generation.”
On our visit, it was evident how nourishing and necessary this environment is and the extent to which each aspect has been crafted by the dedication and commitment of Lukasz and team. As I later discussed with Nik Tucker, another older attendee at a Wednesday evening session, if I had encountered a youth centre or school outreach programme like Mosaic as a younger queer person, it would have been a complete game-changer.