Meeting Alice was great. We sat down in one of the quiet rooms on the second floor here at Body & Soul and spent a good while just talking. I told Alice about the events that led to me coming to Body & Soul: last June I went to the GP and they told me I was positive. Quite soon after my diagnosis I went to the deepest depths of depression and had a massive breakdown. I was in a really bad place, made a few suicide attempts. I used to call people like Samaritans and cry every day for like a month asking them “why me?” I was with my partner for four years; we met at 16 and he was the one who gave it to me. I couldn’t tell friends or family so I was just calling up helplines and crying.
Eventually someone told me to go to Body & Soul. I wasn’t sure what to think the first time I came here, but when I walked in it was like whoosh – for the first time in months, I felt a sense of normality and relief. It’s hard to put into words, but it’s a massive safe haven – it’s a place of acceptance. Coming to Body & Soul has made me think of my life like there’s a cake and there’s a small slice of it that is HIV but there’s all the other bits that you get with it too and it’s enriched me in every aspect of my life. My friends and family don’t know about my diagnosis, but before I felt like I was walking around with an X on my head and wondering like “do people know?” Here you are normal and there are amazing people saying you are normal and just like everyone else. This has helped me get a lot of my confidence back.
It’s not all about HIV here. I don’t actually talk directly about it all that much – it’s really life coaching, even though the team say that I’m doing it myself. I’m so grateful to everyone at Body & Soul for what they do – I always say they saved my life. They pulled me back from the brink, when having a haven of love is exactly what I needed. That’s why the volunteers who work at Body & Soul are so important. The connections I have made here with people from all backgrounds and walks of life are amazing. Now I want to go back to university to study media and journalism, and I also have some business ideas I’m pursuing. It’s great to know that Body & Soul are there to support me in this.
I felt really comfortable talking to Alice – she was a good listener. I told her how I started coming to Body & Soul with my older sister when I was really young. I didn’t really know why I was coming here for the first few years – I’m not positive, it was my mum, but Body & Soul helped us through the process of her telling me about her status. My sister is six years older than me, so she knew before I did, but the good thing is that there are different age groups within the charity – there’s the children’s group, then BaSe until we’re 13 and then Teen Spirit, where they explain things it might be difficult for a parent to explain. There’s so much support around it. It really helped.
It’s nice here – it’s family away from family. I’ve known Emma, the director, and people like that since really young. She could tell me off, she’s like an aunty. In a funny way, I wish everyone had a place like this. I think it nurtures nice people. I have massively benefited from the encouragement Body & Soul has given me around education. I’m first generation immigrant, so while my mum thinks hard works pays off, she doesn’t understand the education system. I’m a hard worker but needed guidance with how to fulfil my potential. I got into Cambridge and wouldn’t have without this place. I compare my CV to people doing what I’m doing – all from really good backgrounds, not hating, but from money and connections. It is apparent that as they didn’t have things like HIV to worry about, they were very focused on their career. I’ve just started working as a trainee solicitor at a law firm, and I know I wouldn’t be where I am now without Body & Soul.
Lots of firms do pro bono work and I’ve helped with the legal clinic at Body & Soul so I’m hoping I can continue to do that in my new firm. Otherwise I would like to mentor someone to help them in the way I was helped. Body & Soul is about more than just practical help – it’s really about compassion, relationships and community. The workshops aren’t only about taking your medicine but also about self-esteem and relationships, living on your own. Things like that really help to keep you going. Volunteers at Body & Soul come across lots of people who have really high ambitions and are really lovely – there are lots of talented people who attend Body & Soul and I think anyone would enjoy meeting them and forming connections with them. If I had advice for prospective volunteers, it would be just to be yourself. You’ll get on well here if you are chilled, you like people and you like talking. It’s as simple as that really.
The thing that struck me about Body & Soul was how well the team knew their members – the centre really is a sanctuary for so many people, a place where they can be completely themselves, without fear of misunderstanding or rejection.
They know they will find support in whatever form it’s needed – medical advice, careers help, counselling, or just a friendly face greeting you at the door for a sit down and a cup of tea. There’s no one-size-fits-all attitude here.
I was lucky enough to have some time with a few members and although their stories were very different, the common thread was that Body & Soul was an essential part of living a healthy, full, rounded life – mentally and physically. Several people described it as a ‘lifeline’ and I don’t think ‘lifesaver’ would be overstating it either.
Thanks to all the Radio 1 and 1Xtra DJs for coming down to Body & Soul to find out more about what we do. If you think you have what it takes to be a volunteer at Body & Soul, we’d love to hear from you. There are more opportunities than you can shake a stick at, so whether you would like to support babies, children, teens or adults, and whether you’re interested in helping out with arts workshops, discussion groups, health education or emotional support there really is something for everyone. Get in touch via the volunteering section of our website.
Note: the names of some members may be changed for reasons of confidentiality.