When asked what the major turning points are in Body & Soul;s history, there feels so many, it’s hard to identify one or two…For me, step change can come in a variety of ways and the obvious answers aren’t always the right ones. I think back to the major upheavals for Body & Soul; finding a home has always been a key component of our model and it was the first task back in 1996 followed by moving to temporary premises for 5 years to secure a longer term home, then financing and refurbishing the current building. Most organisations grow slowly and incrementally, but from day one we were busy! We grew year on year, scaling back in our temporary home to then quickly scale up in 2007.
Eighteen years is always going to mark a period of intense change. For Body & Soul and the community we support, surely that change has been more intense than most. Back in 1996, there were 17,000 people living with HIV in the UK. In data released by Public Health England last week, that figure had increased to 107,800. This alone has massively changed the demand for Body & Soul’s programmes of support, but the demographic that we support has changed too. Back at the beginning, we would frequently see children who were HIV positive; now, thankfully, that’s increasingly rare due mainly to huge improvements in treatment. Partially because of treatment too, we now see lots members aged over 50, around 1 in 4 of our adult members are in this age group. At the beginning, it was a very big decision for an HIV positive woman to think about having a child but now being positive isn’t a barrier to having a child and as such we’re seeing many more HIV-affected children. So the needs of our members have changed greatly.
Some things remain constant in the organisation and that is a great thing too. One thing that remains and has been a thread throughout our history is the capacity of the human spirit to overcome adversity, to manage the impact of traumatic life events and to transform that into living a life that is full, giving, loving, positive and enriched.
Volunteers have always been key to the success of Body & Soul and looking at the staff team now, we’ve almost all been volunteers to begin with. We could not function without the spirit of volunteerism and those volunteers who give their time and treble our impact. That spirit hasn’t changed and neither has the essential collective and individual ingredients of Body & Soul: love. This is the love and compassion for humankind and the desire to action that love in a way that makes a difference to someone else’s life. That love is central to being a volunteer, a staff member, a member, a trustee, a funder of Body & Soul. One of the most important parts of organisational growth is keeping your values that were essential from the very beginning and applying them as you grow. I’m proud that we’ve done that at Body & Soul and that we have retained a sense of what we stand for.
It’s great to think too about stories of personal victory and growth. There are people who were around in 1996 who are still around now; people who didn’t expect to still be here, living today positively and successfully managing the impact of HIV on their lives. That is a huge cause for celebration.
Our biggest challenge today is securing the funding that we urgently need to make sure we can still be here in the future. I feel it’s so important to highlight that real change is about long-term investment and investing confidence and trust. There have been a number of partners and funders who have taken that approach over the years. If we’re talking about transforming lives, about an upstream approach to health, then it has to be about long-term investment. My thanks go out to those funders and investors who have taken such a long term approach to their support but I would also call on others to look at long-term funding. If we want to change lives, that is the way to have the greatest impact and to bring about sustainability for the third sector who are often struggling on a year by year basis. In return, not only do we know that for each pound invested here brings £5.32 return in social value, but we also know that pound goes further because of how we operate.
My greatest hope for Body & Soul is that we can sustain ourselves through these financially challenging times and that we will build a financially sustainable model for the organisation to grow over the coming years. We know that there are thousands of people in the UK and beyond, who would benefit from being part of this exceptional community where HIV is transformed.
For me, Body & Soul has reaffirmed a lesson about tenacity, not giving up, holding on to optimism and to hope that whatever your situation, however traumatic or hopeless it can feel, it can be transformed.Over the past 18 years thousands of people have been instrumental in a big or small way in ensuring that we are here now, in providing support of all kinds. There are thousands who have invested in different ways; investing time, energy and finances. It has never been a more important – or exciting – time to be involved.
We invite our friends, members, volunteers and supporters to share their memories and reflections from the past 18 years with us in the comments below.