Health campaigners celebrate saviour of Leeds' only HIV support service

A vital Leeds support service for people with HIV and AIDS has been saved from the axe.

Support worker Hilda Achola speaks with a service user at BHA Leeds Skyline. Picture by Tony Johnson.

Charity bosses at BHA Leeds Skyline, the city’s only HIV support service, were issued six months’ notice that its contract would not be renewed by Leeds City Council back in October.

The notice for backing to end by March 31 came amid uncertainty over funding which saw Government hand down a £3.9million public health cut to the local authority for next year.

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But it has since emerged that funds have been secured to keep the service available to the 1,200 to 1,300 people in the city living with HIV and AIDS.

BHA hosted a victory party for service users this week after the Headrow-based facility was given a 12-month contract.

Becki Byran, service development and delivery manager at the charity, insists that the service will still meet demand despite being issued a five per cent cut and has heralded campaigning services users.

“Our whole campaign was completely service user led. People who had never disclosed their status to anybody made that brave step to make it known we were facing closure,” she said. “For emotional support and cognitive behavioural therapy we are the only place in Leeds. It would have been quite a difficult time for people who are newly diagnosed.”

She said initial closure fears were “disheartening” and left some staff facing redundancy.

But service users rallied, making a deputation to councillors and backing two petitions that were collectively signed by more than 2,000 people.

BHA came to Leeds in 2007 and annually supports 450 people with HIV, who often encounter abuse due to their diagnosis.

A council spokesman confirmed the funding and said many other services were issued five per cent cuts due to central funding issues.