Lena is the founder of Mosaic Community Trust, a charity supporting socially and economically isolated communities. Mosaic empowers local people through encouraging their participation in running social enterprises, including a recycled shopping bag project and massage therapy training.
1Can you explain your role in one sentence?As the founder of Mosaic Community Trust and in my position as a managing trustee of the charity, my role is to lead, guide, direct and develop the Mosaic Team. I set up the charity in 2006. Mosaic seeks to empower local socially and economically disadvantaged communities, especially those living in North Westminster, particularly in the Church Street area.
2How long have you been doing this job?I have been working in this area for well over 10 years, since I set up the charity in 2006, but it has been a life-long calling to develop disadvantaged communities.
3Did you find yourself in this role by accident or by design?Certainly not by accident. I had a strong calling when I was a teenager to work with those who are isolated and this drive has been with me ever since. In response to my calling, I qualified as a nutritionist, dietitian and a social development specialist and immediately embarked in international development work in Africa and Asia, focusing on poverty reduction and women’s empowerment. I did this work for 35 years, in that time working for a number of international NGOs including Oxfam, WaterAid and Interact Worldwide.
Each time I came home to Westminster from my work abroad in Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, East Africa and many more; I realised that there were growing communities in my neighbourhood, who came from the very same regions I had been working in. I became increasingly aware that these communities of people who had settled here were isolated, with no real sense of belonging or value. I have been lucky to be able to draw on all my international experience to help empower the members of this local community.
4What’s the best part about your job?It is so rewarding to see the transformation in the lives of BME women and their families. When the women first come to Mosaic they often feel vulnerable, they lack resources and knowledge. Very soon, through the strong network we have here, they quickly develop support structures and empower each other. That is wonderful to see.
5What’s the strangest thing that has ever happened to you in your job?There hasn’t been anything particularly strange in my current role for Mosaic, but I have many stories from my time working abroad. There was so much injustice in the countries I have worked in. Many years ago I was working in India as Oxfam’s Field Director, at a time when the Central India region was facing famine. The affected villagers were offered work making roads, as part of the UN’s Food for Work Programme. One week, when the people who had worked went to get their bag of grain, they found that the inspector had gone on holiday for two weeks. He was the only person with a key to the grain store.
People were starving and no one knew what to do. Everyone was very fearful about breaking into the government building, so I said, “OK, I will do it.” I found a big stone and kept hitting the lock until eventually I managed to break into the building and we divided up the food amongst everyone who had worked. The next day I was summoned to the legislative assembly and reprimanded for my actions. The story was covered in the press, but at the time I felt I had no choice. People were hungry and needed access to the food. That was a memorable experience.
6What do you enjoy doing when you are not at work?I enjoy going to the gym regularly, but I get greatest satisfaction from my spiritual life. I am an active member of my local Church - Westbourne Park Baptist Church and Westbourne Park Family Centre.
7What do you like about this area? I have been a Westminster resident for almost 40 years. I love the spirit and bustle of the area. I love its cultural diversity, rich history, the architecture – which I think people often fail to appreciate, the variety of food and the amazing accessibility by public transport to the rest of London and beyond.
8Where’s your favourite place to go for lunch in the local area? Church Street Market street food – especially on Saturdays. You can get freshly prepared fish, meat and vegetable dishes from a whole range of cultures. The Creole stall is particularly good. I love all the fresh spices.
9Who is YOUR hero and what is it about them that inspires you?My mother will always be my hero. She played a huge role in inspiring me and being my reference for most of my life. The values and beliefs that I have acquired are most certainly from my mother, who was a South Indian woman but educated in a Jesuit University, which gave her a strong spiritual and intellectual foundation.
10If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would it be? I would love to visit Myanmar. It is such a socially and culturally rich country, but the current political state of injustice means I do not feel I can visit at this time. I really hope that the international community will intervene to rectify and restore peace and justice in the country and I will be able to travel there soon.