9th Day of Christmas

Two weeks ago, I got the chance to speak with the director of Cara Trust, Chris Woolls. Incredibly committed to the cause, Chris has worked in the field for 20 years and counting.

Cara Trust serves as a support centre for those living with HIV. Though they’re based in Kensington and Chelsea, people from any borough in London are welcome to access their services. They’ve narrowed their focus to supporting over 50-year old’s because they’ve found that this age group is most in need of support. This is because this age group faces two issues; HIV and ageing. In addition, many over 50’s are reluctant to access general support services because they have to disclose their HIV positive status. Chris added, “It wasn’t long ago that gay men were considered criminals.”

The 1967 Sexual Offences Act decriminalised homosexuality in some cases; it did not legalize homosexuality. The act provided new freedom, but it didn’t stop harassment and only changed the charges named when arresting gay men. This puts them in an especially difficult place when it comes to getting the care they need. Chris aptly put it, “Particularly for over 50’s we try to meet the needs when they arise because, if not us, then who?”

Having previously worked at a larger charity, Chris said he preferred working at a smaller charity like Cara Trust because of the proximity to the clients. He said working in a smaller charity enabled him to be more in touch with the needs of their beneficiaries. Working closely with beneficiaries ensures that Cara Trust can identify and meet as many needs as possible; a main goal of the organisation. They’ve curated a suite of services to ensure this including; a wide range of housing solutions, HIV and ageing health seminars programme, one-to-one buddy programs for isolated older people, expert social workers who provide casework and advocacy, and small grants advocacy volunteers to acquire items such as cookers, fridges, or home adaptations. They also provide peer support groups where individuals can meet up to share a meal and have a nice chat and have recently opened a foodbank for older people with no recourse to public funds. When asked what Chris is most proud of he said he’s most proud when he begins to see people less. He explained that when an individual becomes less reliant on Cara Trust, or fully self-sufficient, it’s the most incredible thing to see.

An example of such a case is Mr X, written in Chris’ words.

When we first met him he was homeless having recently moved back to London, completely broke, and starting to suffer quite severe mobility impairment. All this on top of his HIV. He has no family in London.

He was, understandably, quite tearful as he felt his life was falling apart around him at a time when he was approaching his late 60s. He himself put it succinctly when he told me ‘I can’t quite believe it’s come to this as I retire’.

We immediately started putting together a plan with him, to help him through his short-term and long-term needs. This included:

  • Inviting him to join our regular peer-support and 50+ social groups.
  • Raising funds to send him on a Christmas respite break, so that he wouldn’t be alone at that time of year.
  • Advising and supporting him with his homeless issue – he’s now living in a great sheltered housing scheme by the Thames.
  • Raising funds for a special chair for his new flat, which makes it easier for him to stand up out of the chair, and for a laptop which helps him communicate more with family members far away.
  • Visiting him at home and in hospital when he underwent a hip replacement operation.

Last time I popped round to see him he reflected on all this and another tear came to his eye. This time I’m glad it wasn’t borne of the frustration that they were previously.