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When an AIDS Service Organization loses its funding how does it survive?

Wednesday, 16 August 2017 Written by // Guest Authors - Revolving Door Categories // Current Affairs, International , Revolving Door, Guest Authors

Guest author Iain Murtagh from the UK updates on how fundraising revenues are continuing to keep St. Albans' The Crescent afloat

When an AIDS Service Organization loses its funding how does it survive?

Firstly we must apologise to anyone following our story for the delay in providing an update, it has been three years now since we last published an update. 

So much has happened that it is hard to know where to start so I guess we will start with the MBE. That’s right, in 2016 the Crescent was awarded the MBE for voluntary organisations, The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, or QAVS for short. 

The assessment procedure is quite lengthy as you might imagine and began with a nomination for the award being made by The Bishop of St Albans in late 2015. The Bishop had been impressed by our exhibition of the “Stand Tall Get Snapped Project” in St Albans Cathedral for two weeks over the previous World Aids Day period. 

The exhibition had attracted a lot of attention, and a mention by Mr Stephen Fry via his famed twitter account. The ground breaking exhibition of 30 HIV positive individuals (some members of the Crescent) was the brainchild of the marvellous photographer Mr Edo Zollo. The portrait display had toured the UK the previous year to raise awareness of HIV, humanise the condition and combat HIV related stigma. More info on this stigma busting project can be found here. 

Our two week exhibition in the Abbey Church and Cathedral of St Alban coinciding with the run up to World Aids Day was very well attended and many commented that it was the best exhibition they had seen in the Abbey for quite some time. We were understandably very proud of this achievement and very pleased to learn that Bishop Alan had nominated us for the award as a result. 

The assessment process began shortly after this with Her Majesty’s representatives visiting the Crescent to talk to staff, volunteers and members, assess our work in the community, request references and inspect the facilities. Their report was then passed to the Cabinet Office panel who then assess the evidence and a recommendation is made to Her Majesty who then provides formal approval. 

The nominated group is then informed of the decision but must keep this secret until the news is officially released on her Majesty’s official birthday on 02 June each year. As part of the award the recipients are invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace. Last year as part of Her Majesty’s 90th birthday celebrations we were also invited to the Patron’s Lunch that took place along the Mall in front of Buckingham Palace too. 

More information on the QAVS process can be found here.

The award certificate and unique crystal award were presented at our open day in September 2016 as a final part of the process. Some pictures of the day here.

We were so thrilled to receive such a prestigious award, a real recognition of the tireless work of our volunteers and staff supporting those living with or affected by HIV. 

But we cannot rest on our laurels, there is, as ever, much to do. We still have no regular funding and so are totally reliant on fundraising activities and charitable trusts to survive. 

As ever, our twice yearly busking events in the city centre bring in much needed funds and raise awareness of HIV in the community. This along with our Open day every September provide the backbone of our events each year. 

In early 2017 after seeing our QAVS publicity we were approached by representatives of Bunnings, the Australian DIY store chain. They had recently completed the purchase of a UK DIY store chain, Homebase and were in the process of rebranding their stores as Bunnings outlets. 

As part of their wonderful community orientated operation Bunnings like to support local causes and as the St Albans stores were the first UK outlets to reopen as Bunnings we were invited to participate in their opening events, in particular the “Sausage Sizzle” 

Each Bunnings store has an outside BBQ area where they provide facilities for community groups and charities to come in each weekend to cook sausages with onions, (wrapped in a slice of white bread) and sell them to customers. 

Sausage Sizzle is an Australian idea that has successfully been transplanted into the UK. In Australia it is a very well known (and much loved) part of a visit to a Bunnings store. 

The community group or charity merely has to staff the event, and purchase the foodstuffs. All proceeds from the sale of the “sizzles” is given to the group running the event. 

As this was an opening event it was very popular indeed, we managed to sell almost 1,500 Sausage Sizzles, which along with drinks, and a cake stall inside the store raised a fantastic amount for us. 

We have taken part in several “Sizzle” events since and this has become a very much appreciated addition to our annual fundraising plans. We will take part in another two events this year, one in October and the other just after World AIDS Day too. 

In addition Bunnings staff came in to the Crescent to redecorate our therapy room and provided the materials to do so. A really kind gesture, it has revitalised our facility saving us a great deal of time and money too. 

Our band of supporters continues to grow, without whom we simply couldn’t survive and we are very appreciative of their support. So too are we grateful for the support of trusts like John Apthorp, Rowlandson, Clothworkers, Peter Sowerby as well as small grants from the City Council for specific projects. 

We are also grateful of course for the unstinting support from the Abbey Church and Cathedral of St Alban. This is provided both through the donations from the congregational giving each year and our joint working with the Diocese HIV Support Group. 

We are, as ever, very appreciative of all the support shown by local people, who continue to help us in many ways. A recent event at a Boots chemist store in the city raised a wonderful amount which we are told the company may match, which is amazing considering they had already donated £500 worth of cosmetics as a raffle prize for the event in conjunction with the cosmetic houses who are located in the store. 

Demand for our services continues to grow, recent referrals include a homeless individual and a family devastated by the trauma of a relative’s extremely late diagnosis and hospitalisation. 

Both are now doing well, the homeless individual now has a roof over their head and a part time job. The family are coming to terms with their relative’s diagnosis and seeking information as well as emotional and peer support opportunities as they go along. 

We continue to provide outreach and education services for the wider community, recently to a ladies lunch group, a monthly visit to a local homeless service, awareness work with colleges and universities and have also provided placement opportunities to at least six students recently. 

Other innovative services include postal HIV testing and evening support and counselling provision as well as appointment based services at weekends for those who work or have childcare responsibilities. This is of course in addition to our daily drop in services and weekend events like our famous “Sunday Lunches” where everyone can get together to share and support one another. 

We recently met with the County Council with a view to opening some dialogue and perhaps the possibility of some support. However it is clear that whilst the Council would apparently welcome our participation and contribution to service design, they do not feel able to support us financially. 

Nonetheless we will continue to provide our services and work with any willing provider, to meet the needs of those living with, or affected by HIV.  

In 2016 we hosted the other Hertfordshire HIV charity at our premises for a testing event as part of their provision for National HIV Testing Week. Earlier this year we met again to discuss matters, they wanted to discuss a merger, which would not be possible as our service models are incompatible in too many respects. We did however discuss partnership working and perhaps this is an area we can explore further going forward. 

Those of you who have followed our story from the beginning will realise this was a very big step indeed and a move to perhaps smooth over the upset of the last few years. The loss of our statutory funding was an immense blow, and reinventing our organisation as a self-funded entity took much hard work, in fact it continues to do so as you can imagine. 

Looking forward to the rest of 2017 we have our open day coming up on September 3. This will be our usual garden party affair with free entry, live music from local bands and tea party style refreshments. 

It is an event that is very popular, and enables us to engage with the community in a relaxed atmosphere. We are very pleased that again this year we will be joined by the Mayor, Councillor Iqbal Zia who we are hoping will open the event as usual. 

Moving on to 14 October we have another “Sausage Sizzle” at Bunnings St Albans, plus our regular busking day event for World AIDS Day along with a “Sizzle” the day after. In between we hope to have another concert and hopefully another event at a local store too as well as a street collection and awareness event. 

So lots to look forward to, despite marvellous advances in treatment and detection methods, HIV remains a tricky adversary and we cannot relent in our battle with it. We hope that one day we will no longer be needed, and in fact work towards that every day. 

However, we are a long way from that day it seems and so are immensely grateful to our supporters, volunteers and staff who show fantastic devotion to the cause and work so hard to keep us open. We cannot do what we do without you, so thank you from us all.  

Onwards and upwards! More updates to follow

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