`Since I started with London Lighthouse in 1991 I have been mostly a community services volunteer buddying people in the community to live as well as they can with HIV.'
Many of the people I have supported though the years have been very isolated. In the early days I worked on the residential unit during the night (usually wednesday) and meet some great people. As I drove I would go all over and collect people to bring to Lighthouse and love that we all shared.
I worked as a nightlight spending nights all over west London sleeping on sofas in my sleeping bag incase a service user needed their bed changing, cope with a panic attack or just talking through how KC lesions were hard sometimes to hide.
I also worked as part of the pastoral service and conducted the odd funeral. The joint training with CARA was fantastic! It is being a Buddy that has ben the backbone to my work. There have been changes lately and am waiting to be matched so currently I am part of the scene team being condom fairy in bars in the west end.
There have been some great ad-hock events such as shaking buckets, cycling to wherever, fundraising dinners and cocktails, Supporting the marathon runners. Chris Keegan, before he dies used to raise lots of money with the walk for life. I used to joke that he did the sit for life and I did the push for life as he was in a wheel chair.
I love the people that I meet. I always remember the gratitude of bringing clean pyjamas to my service user when they have had prolonged stays in hospital or reassuring them that the plants are watered and not dead. I have gained some great friends such as Cameron Bray who supported a very isolated man in Wimbledon. We are still friend twenty years on.
I meet some great therapists such as Robert Boylan who shared his skills as hypnotherapist. Matt Harris is a great person on the scene team letting me into youth culture and understanding how HIV affects people much younger than myself.
It has been an honour to support some lovely people in facing unto HIV and the challenges that HIV can impose into their lives. I am grateful that people no longer throw stones to tin cans at me as I volunteer and that the world now understands more about living with HIV.
Occasionally I have even meet some notables such as Lesley Joseph, Ian MacKellan, Princess Dianna and Elizabeth Taylor. I have stood on the stage at the Royal Albert Hall and been on TV in my role as a volunteer. Life is about meeting people and making connections. Occasionally I wonder off to the lovely Gardens at THT Lighthouse West and am able to talk to my friend who have had their ashes scattered in the garden there.
I am grateful that we are no longer needed to carry out the very challenging work that we did in the early days as the virus has changed and people live much much longer with HIV than when I first started. I am glad that I no longer have to drive to a hospital to collect someone for the residential unit only to find that the hospital that they were staying have left them in the carpark in a wheel chair covered in blankets as the staff found out that they had HIV. I am grateful that HIV is now seen as a long term condition.
I love the people that I meet and the friendships I have made. I am grateful for meeting lovely lovely people as I worked as a volunteer. For that I feel very privileged! There have been times when service users have died and that has been hard the one thing I learnt that was harder was when fellow volunteers died too from HIV. I respect their efforts, even though ill themselves, to make a difference to other people’s lives. I am a better person for having done all this work!
Why not apply to be a volunteer today?