The man in charge of a St Albans organisation focused on supporting those with HIV has spoken of his sadness at having to close after 35 years due to a lack of funding.
Since 1988, The Crescent has provided support and care for those with the disease and their families, providing services such as drop-in sessions, counselling, emotional support and more.
However, despite being awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service (QAVS) in 2016, the organisation is now having to close down due to funding issues.
Speaking to St Albans News, chief executive officer Iain Murtagh said: “It was the pandemic that finished us off, as it was public fundraising events that kept us going. At one point, the staff was reduced to just two people, and then just me.
“It’s very disappointing. It’s sad. If we were closing the doors because we were no longer needed, I’d be a happy man, but we still are. I don’t feel for myself, I feel for the people we do support and the ones who we would go on to help but never can now.”
The Crescent was formed by a group of local residents in the 1980s concerned about the ongoing HIV/AIDS crisis. Iain got involved with the charity in 1991/92, volunteering at the site on Russell Avenue after hearing about it from a friend who worked there.
He would go on to become a trustee of the group, and in 2010, when a funding grant was withdrawn by Hertfordshire County Council, he took charge, relying fully on public donations to keep the charity going.
Talking about his memories of more than 30 years of involvement with The Crescent, Iain said: “I’ve always tried to run it as a home environment. A lot of people who come to us are living double lives, and are scared of their positive status coming out.
“Social support is so essential. We used to have a monthly Sunday lunch here, and we’d socialise and help each other out, with tips on medication and other things.
“One of the best memories I’ve got was getting the QAVS; it’s the highest honour a charity can get.
“I also remember having someone come from Watford in a taxi, having just received an HIV positive diagnosis, and thinking it was the end of his life. Fast forward a few years later, I came across him in the city centre, and he was doing really well. He told us that we’d changed his life.”
Though The Crescent is closing it’s doors, Iain adds that similar groups are still needed to help beat the stigma associated with having HIV, something which he says people still don’t really understand.
He stated: “In metropolitan areas, it is a bit easier to live with. But the further out you move, it gets worse. There’s still a lot of misunderstanding.
“The heterosexual community especially needs to be made aware of HIV, as infections are now higher amongst them than in the LBGT+ community.
“People need to be informed on what life living with HIV is like in the 21st century.”
Photo credit: Iain Murtagh