St Albans HIV clinic to stay open

THE HIV clinic threatened with closure after losing the majority of its funding has vowed to stay open after committed staff pledged to remain with the St Albans centre.

The Crescent, based on Russell Avenue, lost most of its funding from the county council when a decision was made to offer a single county-wide service which was awarded to HertsAid, whose headquarters are in Ware.

The Crescent, which provides those living with HIV and their families with support and advice, was shocked by the news and has campaigned to have the decision overturned.

Services were due to switch to HertsAid on July 1 although service users of The Crescent said they felt as though they had been left in the dark about what provisions would be available to them from tomorrow (Friday).

But staff and management decided on Monday that they would not be transferring to HertsAid and would instead focus on raising its own funding so that its services could continue unchanged.

UNISON, which has been heavily involved in consultation with its members regarding the transfer, said its members had been faced with an impossible decision: potential redundancy with their new employer or potential redundancy when the funding for The Crescent dries up.

A statement read: “Staff and management have made the courageous decision not to transfer to HertsAid.

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“This decision will involve strenuous efforts on the part of the Crescent to secure new funding to allow its services to continue unchanged.

“The process followed by both funding parties was in breach of their own official procedures and the service review was undertaken by the organisation that ultimately was set to benefit from the change in service provision.

“Issues around sexual health and people contracting HIV/AIDS is a growing problem within society and UNISON believe this cut in funding and service is both short-sighted and motivated purely by financial constraints.”

Iain Murtagh, head of operations at The Crescent, said the loyalty that everyone had shown had overwhelmed him. “It was a difficult decision and we told staff, who have mortgages and families, they would not be judged for going to HertsAid – we’d understand.

“But at the crunch moment, when we asked them what they would do, not one of them said they would be going. It was quite emotional for us all. Their decision speaks volumes about how HertsAid is viewed.”

Iain said that his staff has spent most of this week visiting service users and informing them that the clinic, which for many is a sanctuary, would not be closing.

“For many of them, the stigma that surrounds HIV prevents them from having a voice and so we give them that voice and we’ve stood up and we’ve said ‘No, this isn’t fair’ – it isn’t. And we will remain here as long as we can.

“The Crescent has over 25 years of experience and it is like a trusted friend, someone our users turn to when times are good and bad. Many carry a huge secret around with them all day but they can be themselves here.”

MP Anne Main welcomed the brilliant news. She said: “I applaud them for taking the leap into the dark to meet the needs of their service users. We know this is what they wanted. We must now argue the case for them having their funding returned.”

n The Crescent must now embark on a programme to raise its own funds and has set up a Vodafone ‘Just Giving’ account which allows people to donate via text. Anyone wanting to donate can text “cres19” followed by the amount they wish to donate to 70070. Donations can only be made in sums of �1, �2, �3, �4, �5 and �10. Their next fundraising event will be held at The Load of Hay pub in Watford. The unique event celebrates Christmas in the middle of the year and is on July 30. To find out more or to make a donation to The Crescent, contact them on 01727 842532.