It’s 8pm on a Wednesday night in September 2021, and I have just finished my final official meeting – the Annual General Meeting – and now my time as Chair is over. As I leave the building my thoughts go to the first time I stepped through this door…
Like most people, I can remember my first visit to George House Trust as though it was yesterday. It was a cold, dark winter evening and I was incredibly nervous - I was desperate to make a good impression, and for them to like me. The lady I had spoken to when I arranged my appointment had sounded nice over the phone, and explained things really well, but I still didn’t really know what was waiting for me on the other side of that door.
Like everyone else who steps through that door, what I found was a warm and friendly group of people who are passionate about ending the stigma and discrimination facing people living with HIV. Unlike everyone else, I then experienced possibly the longest and most thorough interview of my life.
You see, I wasn’t there as a new service user, I was there to be interviewed for the position of Chair of Trustees. The successful candidate would be the first Chair who wasn’t a current service user or volunteer (a bold decision for a member-led organisation) hence the thorough selection process. Far from putting me off, the interview process made me want the role even more. That might seem strange, but I had my reasons.
Firstly, any organisation putting that much effort into recruiting a Chair obviously cared deeply about their services and service users. Secondly, member representation on the three interview panels was clearly not just a “tick box exercise” – evidence that George House Trust truly was a Member-led organisation (something that is really important to me).
And last, but by no means least, everyone I met that evening was warm, friendly and passionate about the work of George House Trust. I was hooked - everything I’d read, and heard, was true – I wanted to be part of this! Needless to say, I was over the moon when I was offered the position.
Seven years later, as I open my car door, I catch a glimpse of the tattoo on my wrist and smile. Now anyone who has met me knows that I do like my ink, but there is a special reason why this tattoo makes me smile. Partly it’s because the tattooist kindly donated 20% of the proceeds to George House Trust. But mostly it’s because it reminds me of the advocacy work George House Trust undertook to ensure that every tattooist within Greater Manchester understands that to refuse to tattoo someone based on HIV status is unlawful.
And then I think of the formula milk scheme, and smile again - HIV positive mothers across Greater Manchester are offered free formula milk for their babies because of George House Trust! Both of these things may seem fairly insignificant, but for me they represent what George House Trust is all about – challenging stigma and discrimination every day, and making a real difference to the lives of the people we support.
George House Trust has been a huge, and varied, part of my life since that night seven years ago.
I have met Bishops, Lord Mayors and Drag Queens (sometimes at the same event!); thrown myself out of a plane to raise money; danced the night away at Drag Balls (why did I choose to wear a pleather dress on the hottest day of the year?!), and cried silent tears at Candlelight Vigils; attended award ceremonies and many, many Board meetings (some of which I even managed to keep to time!).
I consider myself so lucky to have been able to play a small part in some of the amazing things it has achieved such as joining the U=U (U Equals U or Undetectable=Untransmittable) campaign, and award-winning writer and producer Russell T. Davis agreeing to be our patron.
As I drive away for the last time I am still hooked! I will never cease to be amazed by the impact that the organisation has on the lives of people living with HIV, and I will be forever grateful to have been part of it.
Thank you to everyone who has been on this journey with me. And to all the staff, trustees, members and volunteers (past and present) it has been a privilege to know you and work alongside you!