Gary Pargeter reflects on the impact and achievements of Lunch Positive over 10 years.
I started to write this before the recent and saddest news of James Ledward’s passing. Having got to know James progressively well since Gscene started, I write this with deepest and sincere gratitude for all of the support he and Gscene have given our voluntary sector, Lunch Positive, our HIV and our LGBT+ communities. Much of this writing will be about celebration and achievement, of which James played a big part, and continues so. I hope James would enjoy what I’ve written, and not have asked me to edit!
This year has been one of special celebration for Lunch Positive. An achievement of 10 years of authentic grassroots voluntary action, over 500 weekly HIV lunch club sessions, and much more. Quite something for a community group and organisation that is delivered by volunteers and now often fills a room of up to 80 people!
It seems an age ago in 2008 that the organisation which we grew from, Open Door, closed through lack of funding. In fact, there is now a whole new generation and community of people with HIV who will probably never have heard of Open Door or the many other small, community-based, peer-led HIV groups that used to exist in Brighton & Hove. Here we’re so fortunate to be a community that still actively seeks to support each other, in a multitude of ways.
This year has been one of growth for us, and we have developed our projects even further. In addition to the weekly lunch club we now have a monthly 50+ Evening Supper Group, a pilot group in Eastbourne, an advice drop-in in partnership with Terrence Higgins Trust, and a range of Lunch Positive wellbeing activities – all reflecting the interests of members.
As we do every year, to keep it relevant and wholly purposeful, we talk with our members, volunteers and stakeholders. We seek to continually develop our understanding and explore the difference we make, the needs we meet, and what we might do or become in the future. This year we’ve been having these discussions more widely than ever before – an appreciative enquiry. Friendship, peer-support, community, help at times of need and crisis, and volunteering all still come at the top of the list. The unique form of peer-support that Lunch Positive provides, and the value of people volunteering, have been constant accolades. Our volunteers are truly amazing, I can’t adequately convey how committed, hardworking, and inspirational they are.
Here are just some of the things that we’ve heard and learned from our members, frequently moving and insightful.
“What an amazing feeling there is in the lunch club, how friendly and welcoming people are.”
“People really care about each other and they know that the club cares about them.”
We’ve also heard that; “The lunch club focuses on being a social network, a sanctuary, a place without barriers.”
That “barriers break down completely when you are here,” suggesting that many members find Lunch Positive creates a unique time for them each week, which is not available elsewhere. Lunch Positive provides different ‘things’ for people at different ‘stages’ of their life. When people have suffered from an acute trauma, such as loss of a partner, or long stay in hospital, then, “Lunch Positive is like a sanctuary where people can go.”
People spoke about it as a key to “rebuilding’’ their lives, a place they could go and “just be”. One person said for months after being in hospital it was the highlight of his week, the social event of his week, a way of reintegrating back into life. What a privilege it is to be part of Lunch Positive as a volunteer or worker, and to know the project makes this kind of difference.
Just recently, Kings Fund, the health charity that shapes health and social care policy and practice, held a national conference where the theme was ‘Community is the best Medicine’. What a perfect opportunity. Along with other charities we were selected to present on our work. We shared our experiences of community-based work and volunteering, and it was an exhilarating experience. Hundreds of people together sharing and learning about each other’s differing work, impact, and the contributions of volunteers on health and well-being. Crucially, we shared the voice of our members, as here, and the message we frequently hear resonated loudly, “make it community, not just clinical!”
So with this is mind, as we look towards another World AIDS Day and beyond, let’s celebrate all of the advancements and achievements of HIV treatment, care and equality that so many more people now possess. But please remember that these are not necessarily the reality or attainable for everyone, nor all of the time. Being, acting and caring as a community still matters incredibly so, and makes a major impact. Let’s never give up on this nor think it’s a ‘job done’. Thank you James, and all our supporters for understanding and advancing this. At Lunch Positive it has touched the lives of hundreds of people, and continues to do so. With appreciation – from all of us!
To find out more about Lunch Positive, to volunteer or find other ways to participate or to check out their many events, see our website.