What is Off Centre?
Off Centre is a counselling, advocacy and psychosocial service for young people aged between 11 and 25 who live, work or study in Hackney. We’ve got art therapy, drama therapy, mentoring, information and advice as well as Project Indigo, which is an LGBTQIA support group. It’s all in one place so anyone who comes can be directed to the right services, which are free, confidential and aimed at helping Hackney’s young people to have greater control over their lives.
What do you do?
I’m the youth worker at Project Indigo. We provide this social support group every Thursday from 6pm – 8pm in Off Centre. It’s for anyone who might identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or might be questioning their gender or sexuality. We do variety of things, trying to provide community activities that can help young people not to feel isolated. In recent sessions, for example, we have cooked burritos together, we have had a trip to Sutton House to learn about its history and make some protest banners and we have also participated in the Pride in London. We work hard to make sure young people lead what we do so, for example, if they love sport we’ll do some sports.
What are the most common challenges the young LGBTQIA people face?
Isolation is a really big issue, whether this is in families or at school. Schools don’t have to teach about LGBTQIA issues and so there’s still a lot of stigma, lack of awareness and bullying within schools. A lot of people might feel scared to talk about their sexuality or gender because they are worried they might experience rejection. Homelessness is disproportionally high for young LGBTQIA people. And the impact of all of this – the risk of homelessness, the stigma, the bullying and the fears – is that LGBTQIA people have worse mental health in overall.
How has Project Indigo grown?
It started in 2012. Today we have 45 young people on the books who I e-mail and text every week. Most weeks there are around 9 – 13 people coming to the group. Today we have just started a new project with Stik to develop an exhibition in Hackney. We are always looking for more opportunities for the group, so do let us know if you have any ideas for other directions we could grow in!
Can you tell me more about your recent fundraising success?
After our fundraiser with Arcola Theatre last January, when people showcased their talents, we talked with Hackney Museum about exhibiting their work. To do that we put in a funding bid for the money based on a sale of Stik’s famous holding hands Pride banner, which was kindly offered by Stik, and we got around £12k. Now we will get 10 young people from the group to have a series of workshops in September with things like illustration, performance, ceramics… anything they want to use to create a story about being young and queer or trans in Hackney.
What is the most important outcome for people who come to the project?
I think the best thing is when a young person who has used the group feels confident and supported enough that they are able to spend time with people outside of the group. It often happens that people who meet in the group become one another’s community and friends, and for me this is the most important outcome.