A response to the global HIV/AIDS epidemic
Wandsworth Oasis was set up in the mid 1980s as a local response to the global AIDS epidemic. The founders were a group of gay men who were losing friends to the disease and saw them spending their last days without support and subject to a horrible amount of stigma as a result of a lack of knowledge and understanding about how the virus was transmitted. It was at a time when the general public genuinely believed AIDS could be contracted by shaking hands. Princess Diana achieved a lot towards breaking down this myth and others.
The original idea was to provide an oasis of support to people living with (and dying of) AIDS, particularly when they had no one else to turn to. We are eternally grateful to the Salvation Army in Wandsworth for their long term and unfailing support at a time when many other people turned their backs on this vulnerable group of people. They offered us support in many ways; particularly in their Wandsworth Hall, by providing drop-in facilities for us work confidentially and non-judgementally with people with AIDS from the area. We funded this work through a charity shop in Battersea Park Road, London – which is still there today – no longer the sole charity shop, but one in a small family of seven.
The HIV sector is changing
Twenty five years or so on, things have changed on a number of fronts. The rise of some of the big HIV/AIDS charities in the early 1990s meant we no longer needed to offer direct support and could focus on fundraising activities to support our small grants programme.
People are no longer dying of AIDS as a result of the introduction of anti retroviral drugs. People taking these drugs can expect a near normal life expectancy. However, according to Public Health England, the number of people living with HIV in the UK continues to increase and the number living with undiagnosed HIV remains high. In 2014, an estimated 103,700 people were living with HIV in the UK.
Importantly also, the demographics of people living with HIV have changed. Once simply categorised as a gay man’s disease, it is now much more widely spread across the population in the UK, particularly amongst Black African men and women. NAT provides an interesting breakdown of those groups most affected by HIV. This is particularly relevant for our local context – like many other inner city boroughs, Wandsworth has one of the highest numbers of people diagnosed with HIV largely as a result of its demographic profile. In 2014 the prevalence of people living with HIV in Wandsworth was 5.29 people per 1,000 residents, with the figure rising to 8 people per 1,000 in North Battersea, Lambeth borders.
Wandsworth Oasis today
Our fundraising programmes are as important today as they were 25 years ago, particularly in the context of local and national government funding cuts. We raise money through the sale of donated goods to our Wandsworth charity shops and through a programme of community events to support projects for people living with HIV and prevention and awareness raising activity. Charities working in the HIV sector can apply to Wandsworth Oasis for a project specific grant to help their work. We will also consider capital projects and core funding. We understand – being there ourselves – just how difficult it is to survive in the current environment as a small charity that works tirelessly to support one of the least popular causes in the country.