HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the first HIV support service in Bristol. The Aled Richards Trust, which merged with THT in 2000, was set up in November 1985 in response to the AIDS epidemic growing in the UK at that time.
When local man Aled Richards died from AIDS, his friends and family established the Aled Richards Trust with the intention of preventing others from having to go through what he went through. Working from a tiny office on Mark Lane, at first only a handful of volunteers operated a telephone helpline, taking calls from people across the South West with concerns about HIV.
THT’s Pete Connor, who began volunteering on the helpline in 1986, said “Back then so little was known about the virus, and people were understandably terrified. We would get calls from people who had cut themselves on a piece of glass and thought that might put them at risk of HIV. It was our job to calm them down and explain the facts that were known at that time.”
As the AIDS epidemic worsened, the charity introduced other services, including counselling and home care for people diagnosed with HIV. At a time when stigma around the condition was so high that the families of some of those affected would claim it was cancer, the Aled Richards Trust volunteers offered people personal, non-judgmental support through the final weeks of their lives.
Steve Jones, Regional Manager for THT in the South West, said: “To some of us, 25 years doesn’t seem that long at all. Yet since the Aled Richards Trust was founded, the prospects of those diagnosed with HIV have changed immeasurably. With advances in testing and medication, HIV has become a manageable condition, and those diagnosed today can live full, healthy lives, well into their 70s or 80s.
“However, there is still work to be done. HIV remains the UK’s fastest growing serious health condition, with around 8,000 new diagnoses every year. THT’s staff and volunteers will continue to work hard, both locally and across the country, to ensure people living with and affected by HIV receive the support they need in years to come.”