Community News

Lunch Positive – all about community!

Gary Pargeter October 27, 2023

Lead Pic by Simon Pepper Photography 

Words by Gary Pargeter, volunteers and members

At Lunch Positive we’re so pleased that the global theme of this year’s World AIDS Day is Let Communities Lead. It speaks to everything we are as a charity, and all of our ways of working. Our work is the much needed continuation of support by and for people living with HIV that started when HIV first hit our community four decades ago, and remains invaluable to this day.

It brings people together for supportive friendship, fellowship, peer-support, and provides access to services and support that are often otherwise not reached. Crucially, people living with HIV are at the heart, meaningfully and actively at the centre of our organisation and services.

“It’s more than lunch. It’s a whole community that we don’t have elsewhere, it’s been transformational.”

People living with HIV drive all of our work, as trustees, volunteers and helpers, staff, and people using services whose experiences, opinions and voice are pivotal. Everything we do is built upon volunteering, and we’re hugely grateful to have received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, recognising the quality, impact and hundreds of thousands of hours given by our volunteers over the years.

Lunch Positive services and projects have evolved from of the work of the unique Brighton Open Door Project, founded in the mid-1980s, and alongside our 1-1 and smaller group support, we are immensely proud to still provide the largest regular social and support gatherings of people living with HIV in Brighton & Hove. As one of our members recently said “It’s more than lunch. It’s a whole community that we don’t have elsewhere, it’s been transformational”.

As people living with HIV, some for decades, others more recently diagnosed, we have a wealth of lived experience to share for mutual benefit. Through the conversations we share with each other at our weekly lunch clubs, within befriending, and at our Tuesday drop-in gatherings, we know that there is much to celebrate in the successful medical care and treatment for HIV. Yet still many people come along with poorer health, both HIV related and generally. They look to be part of this unique supportive peer community to overcome social isolation, share friendship, and cope on a day to day basis.

The gap in society between those that ‘do have’ and those that ‘don’t’ widens. Financial disadvantage can greatly impact people living with HIV on low and constrained income, of which we are many. Sharing a healthy meal, takeaway food, our HIV food bank and crisis home outreach are frequently described as ‘lifelines’, and never more than at these times of increased living costs. Social attitudes towards HIV have undoubtedly changed for the better, but we are far from living in an HIV-stigma free society.

“It’s like the family I lost, and I know that I am valued and have a purpose, which makes the world of difference.”

Negative attitudes towards HIV continue to be experienced by many people in the widest range of settings, and these can be hurtful, distressing and damaging. So often we hear examples of these as part of our sharing at Lunch Positive, where in response as people being together we find empathy, self-empowerment and renewed resilience. This year we were proud to present at the British HIV Association Conference on the research undertaken by University of Sussex and the impact of our work, and to share the many example of why our community led work is needed and so highly valued.

In the words of one of our members, Simon: “When I joined Lunch Positive I was at the very depths of life. I had tried to kill myself and was still getting the care of a psychiatrist. I had given up on life and had no interest in taking my HIV meds. The accommodation I was in was so poor, I know it sounds daft but just a simple thing like not ever being able to shower myself in order to be clean and having no heating sometimes got me so depressed and feeling ashamed, I couldn’t sleep and then I slept all day.

“Coming to Lunch Positive where I know I’m accepted and wanted, makes all the difference. I can’t thank everyone enough for the kindness and friendship people have shown. The help from the support worker getting my housing sorted was life-saving. Slowly, I’m putting life back together again and I couldn’t have done it without you.”

And from one of our volunteers, Michael: “I had always felt so low about my HIV, and how difficult I found it to cope. I always felt I’d failed. Now I’m involved with other HIV+ people I feel so much better about myself. It’s like the family I lost, and I know that I am valued and have a purpose, which makes the world of difference. I love it when everyone is together, talking and making the best of life, and I’m eternally grateful to be a part of making that happen.”

Please look at our website and help us spread the word of our services, think about volunteering with us, and consider making a donation to help us continue this invaluable grassroots community work. Thank you. Please visit