Drawing of Terrence Higgins Trust Bridge to 2030 garden

Half of British adults (50%) would be uncomfortable kissing someone living with HIV, according to brand new public attitudes data released by charity Terrence Higgins Trust ahead of its show garden celebrating the huge progress in the fight against HIV debuting at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show (from Tuesday 21 May).

The Terrence Higgins Trust Bridge to 2030 garden, which is fully funded by Project Giving Back, reclaims the iconic tombstone – which was the chilling centrepiece of the Government’s awareness campaign at the height of the AIDS crisis in 1987 – to celebrate and champion how much HIV has changed since then. 

But the new data shows how public perceptions lag way behind the medical progress, despite the UK aiming to be the first country in the world to end new HIV cases by 2030. 

Almost 40 years ago, the Government’s message was 'it’s a deadly disease and there’s no known cure.' While that was true at the time, award-winning garden designer Matthew Childs has reclaimed the tombstone as a bridge to take visitors to the show on a journey from the fear of the 1980s through to today when you can live a long, healthy life with HIV.

The shocking new YouGov polling of 2,267 Brits reveals why the charity’s presence at this year’s RHS Chelsea is so crucial, with 4 in 10 (41%) uncomfortable going on a date with someone with HIV. While just 16% of respondents are comfortable having sex with someone with HIV who is on effective treatment

This comes despite the fact that people living with HIV who are taking their treatment as prescribed – around 98% of those living with diagnosed HIV in the UK – cannot pass it on to their partners. But, worryingly, the data shows fewer than a quarter of UK adults (23%) know this fact to be true.

The garden is the vision of award-winning designer Matthew Childs and made possible thanks to funding from Project Giving Back, the unique grant-making charity that funds gardens for good causes at RHS Chelsea. After the show, the garden will be relocated to Croydon Health Services NHS Trust’s sexual health clinic to provide an inviting permanent space of calm and reflection for patients and visitors.

More positively, the polling shows 61% of Brits know that someone living with HIV and on treatment can have the same lifespan as anyone else, while 38% are aware that women living with HIV can have babies who are HIV negative. Thanks to routine HIV testing during pregnancy, there are now almost no babies born with HIV in the UK. 

Louise Vallace, a woman living with HIV from London, said:  'My world completely changed when I was told I was living with HIV. I spent the next 10 years in silence and didn’t tell a single person about my diagnosis. This resulted in low self-esteem and a lot of self-stigma based on out-dated myths about HIV and worries about other people’s opinions of me. But, with the support of Terrence Higgins Trust, that all changed. The charity gave me the support, the platform and the framework to talk about living with HIV. I now live happily, confidently and openly with HIV and recently got married to the man I love. Because of all the medical progress that’s been made, we both have complete confidence that I cannot pass HIV onto him. I’m thrilled there is a garden about ending new HIV cases at Chelsea and I hope it will start many, many wonderful conversations about how much HIV has changed.'

Richard Angell, Chief Executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, said: 'It’s shocking and frustrating that public awareness of the huge progress we’ve made in the fight against HIV is still so low. We truly can end new HIV cases in this country by 2030, but tackling stigma and raising awareness of the realities of HIV is an absolutely crucial part of achieving that life-changing goal. That’s why we’re thrilled to be making our debut at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in partnership with our brilliant designer Matthew Childs and the support of Project Giving Back. Our beautiful garden tells a story of resilience, hope and opportunity, and is a rallying cry not to miss the opportunity to end the HIV epidemic in the UK.'

Matthew Childs, garden designer of the Terrence Higgins Trust Bridge to 2030 garden, said: 'Our beautiful garden is the complete antithesis of where we were in the 1980s when HIV was a scary, fearful and dark proposition. While the original tombstone from those iconic adverts was symbolic of all that fear and darkness, we’ve reclaimed it as a bridge into our garden which is revealed as the water rises and falls. It’s surrounded by resilient crevice-style planting to symbolise the awe-inspiring strength of the HIV community over the last 40 years and their tireless fight for progress which means the end of new HIV cases is an achievable goal. But, as shown by the low levels of knowledge about HIV today, Terrence Higgins Trust’s work remains absolute crucial today and in the years to come.' 


More about the garden

The entrance to the garden is reminiscent of the flooded base of a rejuvenated quarry landscape. The water level rises and falls revealing a tombstone slate stepping stone, creating a bridge. The tombstone, which once represented fear, is now reimagined as a crossing leading to a beautiful secluded terrace symbolising a positive, hopeful future free from new HIV cases. 

The garden is inspired by the recolonisation of plants in the redundant slate mines of North Wales by both nature and subtle interventions from ecologists and horticulturalists. To the front is a crevice garden, where plants grow in gaps between rocks. This represents the resilience of HIV activists who have survived through the most testing of times. Granite boulders are scattered through the garden. One of these boulders balances precariously on the boundary and is supported by fragile sticks giving the illusion they are supporting its weight – representing those lost to HIV.

The UK government has committed to ending new HIV cases by 2030. The goal is possible thanks to highly effective ways of preventing, testing for and treating HIV, including the fact that people living with HIV and on effective treatment cannot pass it on to their partners.