Renewed hope for St Albans AIDS charity

A BRIGHTER future could be in store for a St Albans-based charity after they recently found out they will have the chance to apply to become the county’s provider of HIV services from next April.

The Crescent, based in Russell Avenue, has learned it will be able to compete for a three-year contract from Herts County Council (HCC) and the NHS now it is coming up for renewal.

Last year their contract and vital funding expired and a county-wide contract was awarded to another HIV charity, Herts Aid, based in Watford and Ware.

Since then The Crescent has struggled to survive and claims the council has not been interested in helping to keep it going.

But in what has been described as a “U-turn”, council bosses have approached the organisation to discuss how HIV services in the county should move forward.

Iain Murtagh, head of operations, said: “I think the U-turn has been prompted by media coverage and I think they finally realised they cannot go on suggesting everything was fine when it quite clearly is not. The fact they are willing to engage with us is a huge step forward.

“The future certainly seems to be looking brighter, it is nice to be able to look forward now we have the potential to still be here when a month ago it didn’t seem possible.”

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The good news comes after it was revealed last week that Conservative councillor Sally Newton, who is chair of Herts Aid and the council’s health scrutiny committee, has been deselected by her party.

Iain, who has previously raised concerns about her roles, added: “If there were undue influence or favourtism being shown, with her not being in that position will remove that possibility.”

Currently the charity is relying on the goodwill of volunteers and Iain’s personal savings to keep it open at least two days per week.

But to help with essential costs such as gas and electricity bills, several county councillors, including Chris White and Aislinn Lee, are trying to provide emergency funding from their locality budgets.

A spokesperson for HCC said: “Two years ago The Crescent’s contract came to an end and we went to a county-wide provider. We are now in a stage where we are coming up on two years and because of changes within the NHS we are looking to tender a new county-wide contract.

“The contract starts from April 2013 for a three-year period and The Crescent, Herts Aid, and other organisations with experience of providing HIV services can apply for that.”