Health campaigners celebrate saviour of Leeds’ only HIV support service

Support worker Hilda Achola speaks with a service user at BHA Leeds Skyline. Picture by Tony Johnson.
Support worker Hilda Achola speaks with a service user at BHA Leeds Skyline. Picture by Tony Johnson.
0
Have your say

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

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.

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.

Gill Barker

From reaching the summit of Mount Everest to cycling thousands of miles across America, there’s no end to the lengths people will go to for a cause close to their heart. Breaking boundaries and taking on gruelling endeavours can mean the person taking part enjoys the experience of a lifetime while the charity benefits from generous sponsorship. But taking time off work and organising an extreme, and often costly, adventure just isn’t possible for everyone. That’s why Gill Barker, from Wakefield, has created her own twist on the trend to find the toughest, most epic charity challenge. Gill is set to turn 35 in 2020 – and reaching this milestone has inspired her to have a good think about what she’d like to achieve, both physically and mentally, and write a bucket list to help reach those goals. Gill will complete 35 challenges before her 35th birthday on Saturday March 14. Some are small, some are huge, but all of them will push her beyond her comfort zone. “Turning 33 felt like a big thing for me,” explains Gill, who works in marketing at Leeds Trinity University. “I started to think about the life decisions I’d made. I looked back and while I’d had fun, I regretted all those weekends where I could have been having more fulfilling experiences and creating memories. “I have a full-time job so I couldn’t do a massive overseas challenge, but I realised I could break it down into little bits and still raise as much money as possible for charity.” Gill has already ticked 11 challenges off her list. She’s faced her fear of heights at the outdoor adventure centre Go Ape, trained with the Leeds Rhinos, cycled 128 miles from coast to coast and climbed Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales. Other challenges have involved changing her diet to ensure she’s getting all the nutrients she needs, and going to the gym more regularly on her own – something that would previously have caused Gill a considerable amount of anxiety. During the festive season, Gill kept active by completing a ‘12 days of Christmas’ workout challenge. Gill is now taking part in RED January, a campaign run in partnership with Mind that encourages participants to beat the winter blues by being active every day throughout the month. Then, later this month she’ll be taking to the slopes at Xscape Yorkshire to try her hand at skiing for the first time. Gill’s biggest test of her ‘35 before 35’ mission so far will be taking part in a 24-hour run in March. The run will be completed on a 3.71-mile loop so not only will it be physically demanding, it will also play on her mental toughness. She will also be finishing the year in style by taking part in the Honolulu Marathon in Hawaii in December. There are three conditions that all of Gill’s challenges must meet – they must be physical or stretch her mentally, they all need to be self-funded and they can’t affect her job. Driving Gill’s ambition is a passion to help two local charities that have personal meaning to her – Yorkshire Cancer Research and Leeds Mind. She’s already raised more than £500 for the two causes. “Like many families across the UK, my own family has a history of cancer,” explains Gill. “But people close to me have recently been affected by cancer, too. They’ve all been so strong and inspirational. I wanted to do something that would support them. “I chose to raise money for Yorkshire Cancer Research after reading that people living here are more likely to get cancer, and more likely to die from it, than people living in other areas of the country. The statistics really shocked me.” Gill chose Leeds Mind following her own struggles with mental health. Her ‘35 before 35’ challenge has helped her overcome a period of depression. “It’s given me something to focus on,” Gill says. “Many people are affected by depression, even those who continue to work and function in everyday life. It’s very easy to fall into that slump and stop doing the things you used to enjoy. “I’m feeling much fitter and healthier, but I’m also happier and more confident now that I have a new focus. “If I can encourage one person who may be going through a difficult period to be brave and do something they’ve never done before, face a fear or take on a new challenge in order to gain a new focus, then that would be brilliant. If I can do it, anyone can.” You can find out more about Gill Barker’s challenges and sponsor her by visiting www.35before35.co.uk. You can also follow her progress on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. She is also looking for suggestions for challenges to complete the 35 as she is still a few short on her list. For further information on Yorkshire Cancer Research, visit www.yorkshirecancerresearch.org.u