The third blog in our 2021 series which spotlights Black social entrepreneurs shaping history through their impactful ventures. This blog has been produced by UnLtd Award Winner Veronica Gordon, founder of Our Version Media CIC – a social enterprise dedicated to increasing positive and authentic representation of Black and marginalised communities in the south.
“As a Black gay man, I didn’t come out until I was 27. I’d really love to make it much easier for people who are coming after me. That’s what motivates me in terms of leaving the landscape in a slightly better place than I found it.”
Adé Adéniji is one half of The Quest Collective C.I.C, a social enterprise on a mission to help gay, bisexual and queer men to be their authentic selves and live their best lives.
Adé and Darren Brady founded The Quest in June 2011. A decade on, in the online, post-pandemic world, the London-based social enterprise is supporting men across the globe.
Adé said that it was a visit to a panel event, organised by Attitude Magazine, called “Can you be gay and happy?” that spurred the pair into action. Adé explains: “They had a therapist and people at different stages of their lives as gay people. When Darren and I left, we were like, ‘Wow, that was all about problems.’ It was very depressing. They were talking about all these issues, but there were no clear solutions.’”
It was then that Darren suggested that he and Ade do something about it. They had the skills – they were both coaches.
To start off, the pair organised what Adé describes as “a book club with a workshop element” in a gay bar in London’s Vauxhall. The book in question was ‘The Velvet Rage – overcoming the pain of growing up gay in a straight man’s world’, by Alan Downs. The sessions ran for 6 consecutive weeks. With no funds, they’d negotiated the space for free by providing free team-building sessions for the bar’s staff.
Since that time, The Quest has provided practical and emotional support to gay, bisexual and queer men. Ade says: “We’re helping create a space to explore the stories and experiences that have shaped their lives and to look at how these might be getting in the way of them showing up as their wholehearted selves.”
“When it comes to gay, bi and queer men’s lives, people talk about sex and HIV, but there was often nothing out there around mental health and wellbeing.”
In 2015, The Quest took part in Public Health England project, the findings of which were published in a 2016 report called “Black and minority ethnic men who have sex with men”. The report highlighted the need for interventions that address mental health within the gay, Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.
Despite that, Adé says he and Darren struggled to keep The Quest going financially: “We weren’t making enough money for the project to be sustainable. We needed to rely on other external factors and that’s what made it really, really hard.”
They generated some income through partnerships, where referral organisations would pay a proportion of the participants’ fees.
At the end of 2020, they received crucial funding from UnLtd’s Inclusive Recovery Fund. This allowed them to create The Quest Mosaic, a gathering for gay, bi and queer men from Black and other Racialised Minority groups. The sessions are facilitated by Adé and Sonny Thaker, a fellow certified coach. Adé said: “We’ve always wanted to work within that community and so when we got the funding, we knew that it was an opportunity for us to create a space for them to come together and do that healing work.”
Adé says being Black significantly influences this work:
“One of the things that I recognise is the role modelling. When I go into spaces it’s very visible that I’m Black. It’s not necessarily visible that I’m gay.
“People have said that a Black gay man co-facilitating makes them feel that it’s a safe space and that if I can come out and still have an OK life, they can too.”
Plus, he says:
“Racism within the gay community comes up a lot and in mixed spaces that can be diluted very quickly, with some White people responding with ‘But we’re all marginalised as gay people’ and a Black or other Person of Colour feeling ‘Yes and I’m also marginalised as a Black person as well’. I bring my gay identity, along with my Blackness into spaces.”
Ade explains that he thinks it is important to acknowledge Black social entrepreneurs:
“We are part of society, so society needs to pay attention to that.
“There are so many barriers that get in the way of some Black social enterprises. When I think of The Quest, very often we’re having to compete with big organisations that have all these infrastructures in place. They have a marketing budget, they have so many staff members and, as a start-up, we recognised that we don’t have that.
“We need funding because we don’t have those things to draw on. When I think of The Quest, we have a very lean infrastructure for our online offerings: we have a website, along with a paid professional who maintains it. We have Zoom and Meet-up accounts, which require subscriptions. Whenever we attend planning, design or client meetings, there is no fee to cover those events. “Funding really helps us with that baseline, and I think without that funding many social enterprises will collapse because they really need that support.”
In addition to financial support, Adé says: “It would be nice to share more stories of Black social enterprises, like case studies, role models and profiles of other Black social entrepreneurs. When I tell people we’ve been going for 10 years, they are like ‘Really? How have you managed to do it?’ So, sharing those pearls of wisdom and networking will be great, bringing together social entrepreneurs to learn from.
“One of the things we would have really appreciated at the beginning is mentoring on specific skills – it could be marketing, budgets, recruitment, social media – because, as we know, when it comes to managing a social enterprise there are so many angles to it. Even applying for funding, the whole budget aspect of it. We have an accountant that we also pay and, to apply for the funding, we have to pay extra to do the whole management accounts for us so, again, mentoring around that would also be great.”