Ashley joiner portrait infront of colourful mural wall
Ashley Joiner

Published: Monday, 5th June 2023

In June 2022, new LGBTQ+-led charity Queercircle opened their first ever permanent home on Greenwich Peninsula.

The space is dedicated to LGBTQ+ art and culture, showcasing an annual programme of exhibitions, artist residencies and a public programme designed to strengthen links between the arts and health and wellbeing. 

The charity also works with the Council’s adult community learning service, Greenwich Learns, as one of the key providers running courses for local people. Since opening, 50 residents have taken part in exciting sessions ranging from arts courses for the over 75s to creative writing workshops, family learning to crafts, sometimes in collaboration with other organisations on the Peninsula.  

A crafts course run in partnership with the Ecology Centre, for example, responded to the Queercircle’s inaugural year-long programme theme of ecology. 

One year on from opening, we caught up with Queercircle’s Director, Ashley Joiner, to hear more about the organisation and the courses they run for our residents, supported by the Council.  

Can you tell us a bit about what Queercircle offers in Royal Greenwich?

Queercircle’s programmes sit at the intersection of arts, culture, and social action. We have a rolling programme of exhibition commissions, a health and wellbeing programme and, of course, our adult community learning which we deliver in partnership with Royal Greenwich. We also run evening classes, and everything is free to participate in.  

We have three spaces: our main gallery, showcasing our exhibitions, our reading room and project space. People can just come and work or rest here and cosy up to read a book at any time, whenever we're open. It's completely free.  

In our project space upstairs we deliver our adult community learning. It's also a space that LGBTQ+ people can book for free, and in which to deliver their own workshops, activities and social events. 

A lot of our programmes include social action, and a lot of that is practice-based research. We are here to disrupt the lack of provision for LGBTQ+ people across arts, culture and learning.  

Offering a warm space is really important to us because we’re one of only three LGBTQ+ spaces in London offering an arts and culture programme that’s free for LGBTQ+ people. Most LGBTQ+ spaces revolve around alcohol and nightlife. Given the cost of living crisis, it was really important that we emphasise that you can come and use the space, with free heating, free Wi-Fi and a cup of tea or coffee. 

In January we did a whole weekend of ‘zine making workshops as part of the Adult Community Learning provision, and it was packed all weekend. It was an opportunity for attendees to meet new people, socialise in a warm space and learn a new skill. 

What is the value of adult community learning for Queercircle? 

A lot of the social bonding that happens in schools doesn't often happen for LGBTQ+ people when we’re younger because often we're either bullied or we're hiding parts of ourselves. In many cases, there is a later development. So, adult community learning is an opportunity for people to learn new skills in a safe space where they can be their true selves. Plus, it offers an opportunity to socialise.  

While we do have classes that are more academic, a lot of our courses are more about the social aspect of learning and of health.  

For example, we have a four-week poetry workshop coming up, where you will get to learn how to write and perform poetry. Above all, it's about building networks and making friends. 

In the short term, we're trialling out lots of different things and seeing what interests people and what they want to learn more of, so that we can start growing those programmes to be longer-form. These courses tend to be evening classes that are four weeks long. They range from poetry writing, to how to grow a garden to how to take up and “green up” space. 

All of our courses are led by LGBTQ+ people. So, although the courses themselves may not be about LGBTQ+ issues, we're approaching these big topics that affect all of us, whether we're LGBTQ+ or not, from a queer perspective.  

This is often something that we lack in the education system. There’s a lack of LGBTQ+ teaching in schools, so this just offers a new perspective.  

What do you like most about delivering the adult community learning courses?  

The LGBTQ+ community is so diverse, with many different communities within it, and our community learning programme, and our activations, really allow us to reach those groups in very targeted ways. For instance, we ran a four-week programme for LGBTQ+ elders. It's an opportunity for us to meet new people and to start building those relationships with our communities.  

What are some upcoming course highlights we should look out for?  

We're partnering with Phytology, an organisation based in Bethnal Green, around queering urban tree pits. It's about creating spaces in our local communities, in public spaces, and greening them up. We’re asking, how do we take the initiative to deliver those green spaces? 

Find out about all courses available through Greenwich Learns. 

Look out for more Queercircle courses as part of Greenwich Learns in September.

Queercircle launch event with crowds outside the space

Queercircle grand opening in 2022

Councillor Mariam Lolavar, Cabinet Member for Inclusive Economy, Business and Skills, said: “We are so proud to have Queercircle in our borough, a much-needed, vibrant LGBTQ+ dedicated space bringing people together for learning and participation. One of our key missions is supporting healthy, integrated and resilient communities. Queercircle’s programme plays an invaluable role to deliver this mission in Royal Greenwich, providing opportunities for the local and LGBTQ+ communities to come together.  We are very lucky to have so many wonderful community learning providers as part of Greenwich Learns, offering learning opportunities at no, or low, cost for the community”.