Celebrities Join Calls For UK National AIDS Memorial

Celebrities including Stephen Fry, Joanna Lumley and Matt Lucas have joined calls to fundraise for a National AIDS Memorial in the U.K.

Project Lighthouse aims to raise £150,000 to create a National AIDS Memorial at the former site of the famous London Lighthouse hospice.

It was a place of sanctuary, respite and care for people with HIV when it opened in the 80s. Indeed, many of those who died at the Lighthouse hospice had their ashes scattered in the garden where the memorial will stand.

Liz Taylor was among its many high profile visitors and supporters of the rest bite centre before closing its residential wing in 1998.

Princess Diana was also a frequent visitor, who often turned up unannounced to sit with people, some as they spent their final hours.

The money raised will fund both the memorial and a series of grants to charities and projects around the U.K. that care for HIV positive people.

The project is supported by many high profile names and groups, including Stonewall, The Elton John AIDS Foundation and Paul Weller.

The U.K. already has one memorial for those lost to HIV by the seafront in Brighton, a city known for its welcoming attitude to the LGBTQ community. And this new national memorial will be made by the same artist, Romany Mark Bruce.

However, this memorial is hoping to not only be a focal point for visitors to reflect – but a place of education. The site, which is now home to the Museum of Brands, will host an exhibition so that visitors can learn about the history of the London Lighthouse’s part in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

Diana With Patient

Princess Diana (1961 – 1997) visiting a patient at the London Lighthouse, a centre for people … [+] affected by HIV and AIDS, in London, October 1996. (Photo by Jayne Fincher/Getty Images)

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What is the significance of the London Lighthouse as a home for a National AIDS Memorial?

The London Lighthouse hospice opened in 1988 to offer residential daycare for men, women and children living with HIV and AIDS.

The building, which used to be a school, was renovated thanks to money raised by an Ian McKellen one-person-show in the 80s.

It became a refuge and place for respite to people marginalised and abandoned because of their diagnosis.

One of the fundraisers of the memorial, Steve Keeble, has both fond and tough memories that inspired the group to create the memorial:

“I used to work for the gay cab firm Freedom Cars,” Keeble tells me. “We used to take the LGBTQ people back and forth from the hospital and the hospice.”

“I would sit with the boys while we were waiting. And you would sit there, and it would seem calm, so calm, but underneath that was the turmoil that HIV and AIDS were causing the young men.

“And yet inside the Lighthouse, it was so tranquil. It was a very special place.”

Keeble has countless stories of those whose lives he saw pass at the Lighthouse. Not least the young men he would take to the hospital, incredibly unwell, only to find out they had passed away days later.

One of the many books of condolences that were kept at the London Lighthouse National Aids Memorial UK Princess Diana

One of the many books of condolences that were kept at the London Lighthouse

Supplied: 82 Films / National Aids Memorial group

As HIV medication improved and made the virus a manageable disease, the London Lighthouse closed its residential unit in 1998.

The building, owned by HIV charity Terrance Higgins Trust was eventually sold in 2015 to the Museum of Brands. The charity used the sale funds to create new services that support people living with and affected by HIV.

Keeble and Project Lighthouse are now working with the Museum of Brands on the memorial.

“I hope the memorial will be part of a healing process,” Keeble adds.

But it’s more than that. The memorial aims to continue the conversation sparked by the recent hit show It’s A Sin by Russell T Davies. The drama galvanised a brand new generation to understand the devastation the epidemic had in the U.K. Keeble hopes the memorial and its exhibition will continue the conversation.

Any additional money raised will be used to create grants specifically designed to help smaller HIV charities who Keeble says “don’t always get a look in.”

Donations for the memorial are open now.

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