Positive People
In these difficult times we want to share some positive stories from people we admire who help and motivate others. Up first is Roland Chesters, author of best selling book Ripples  founder of Luminate and supporter of Wandsworth Oasis. 

I’m lucky. I was diagnosed with HIV and an AIDS defining illness in 2006. At that time, I was given two weeks to live. My illness had completely paralysed me. How is that lucky, I hear you ask. Well, I was diagnosed at a time when effective medication was in place to manage and control HIV. I am living in a country where the medication is freely available. I had access to the best medical care available. I had (and still do have) a strong supportive partner. So many things to be grateful for.

In these current dark days it can be easy to lose sight of what we can be grateful for. We are all, to differing degrees, in the grip of fear, panic, worry or concern. For ourselves. For our loved ones. For our livelihoods. For our futures. And yet, for most of us, we still have reasons to be grateful. On my last trip into my local town a few days ago, before lockdown, the streets were much much emptier than normal. Perhaps a handful of people wandering aimlessly staring into the windows of the many closed up shops. I was there to pick up a prescription and had been planning on buying myself a take-away coffee, but all the coffeeshops were shut. I felt rather peeved by that. On my way into the chemists I saw a Big Issue vendor sat in the doorway of one such closed shop. It was a cold morning and he was an older chap, wrapped in a thin blanket to protect him. I stopped. Paused. Went over to him and offered him the £10 note I had been intending to use to pay for the coffee. He gave me a copy of the Big Issue and started scrambling around for change. “No, keep it” I said to him. “You sure, mate?” he replied. “Yes, of course”, I said. And he began to cry. Nobody had bought a copy from him at all that morning. And that put so many things into perspective.

Whilst I was diagnosed late on in the HIV/AIDS pandemic I have spoken with many of those ‘older’ HIV survivors and heard their narratives. I stood on the sidelines in the late 80s and early 90s and observed whilst so many succumbed. And I was struck by the care, the support, the compassion and the love that those infected received from those within their own community. At that time and in those days HIV/AIDS was a disease that primarily affected gay men and it was from that very community that activism was born. Where help communities, informal and formal sprang up. Where strangers tended to strangers. Now is the time to remember that. Coronavirus is indiscriminate. It can, it has, it does affect anyone and everyone. We are all just one community. Therefore, now is the time to remember that in each and every one of us is the ability to do something good about this.

Unlike in those dark days of the HIV/AIDS pandemic we are simultaneously both blessed and cursed to have constant access to social media. A source of both much false and much true information but with the added difficulty of not always being able to determine the difference between the two. But also a source of much good. I have been heartened to see the creation of the Coronavirus Volunteering and Mutual Aid Directory online (https://www.coronavolunteer.org/) and to see how people are prepared to go very much out of their way to extend a helping hand to those around them in greater need.

Fear creates strong reactions. We have seen reports of people in the UK of Chinese origin being attacked because of the association between coronavirus and its origins in China. Chinese restaurants losing customers. Medical staff caring for those ill with the virus being attacked. Fear knows no rationality. Those living with HIV/AIDS know too well the impact of stigma. We too can play our part in ensuring that the most up to date, most correct information is the information that people are hearing. Because we have been, and in some cases, still are there….

As I write we are seeing the first few days of what really starts to feel like spring. I’m no longer going out but I can look out of the window of my warm and comfortable house and see buds opening, flowers blooming, the world coming back to life. And I live in gratitude and in hope. Gratitude that I am still here. Hope that out of all of this we will see a better, brighter, shinier world emerging. That people will remember what it feels like to help a stranger. Someone whose need is greater than mine.

By Roland Chesters