From one of the Founders of Herts Aid, George Topping
My partner, Bill Zimmers and I were diagnosed with HIV in the mid 1980’s, prior to the availability of HIV treatment.
We were told we were going to die, and should make the most of the time we had left.
We decided to sell everything and buy a houseboat. A few months later we arrived in Hertford after obtaining a residential mooring at Hertford Lock for our houseboat.
Bill became ill and it was urgent that we obtain services. As we were new to the area, no GP would see us and social services did not seem very sympathetic to our situation.
In fact, one social worker argued that as our HIV was contracted by our sexual preference, we deserved it, in contrast to others who were terminally ill with other things and therefore innocent victims.
Following this bombardment of discrimination which left us both feeling bereft, I decided to fight this unfairness by attending public meetings and saying the unsayable – I was fuelled by anger and determined to challenge stigma and misperceptions.
That was really the beginnings of The East Herts HIV and AIDS Support Group which was the forerunner of Herts Aid.
At the meetings run by an evangelical university group and Hertfordshire Social Services, I was given a platform to challenge discriminatory practice by being armed with the facts to dispel the myths.
Bill recovered from his health crisis and joined me in my work to challenge stigma and educate people. Thus, a revolution of education and support evolved in Hertfordshire through the work of Herts Aid.
At that same time in Hertfordshire, there were other voices offering support for those living with HIV but their ideology was one of dependence and powerlessness rather than the philosophy developed in Herts Aid of independence and empowerment.
Establishing Herts Aid
It was not an easy journey. We both went from despair to repair; from despond to respond. We embarked on a series of roadshows and exhibitions, taking HIV out of the drop in centres and into the villages. There was nowhere left to hide from the fact that HIV affected everybody.
Thus, from the very beginning this bottom up approach of those who were marginalised and “othered “challenged existing frameworks which resulted in Herts Aid being at the forefront of care and education.
Herts Aid is carrying on this tradition of which I am very proud.