By Jacquie Richardson, Chief Executive, Positive Life.
In May 2021 I received a phone call from our good friend and long-term supporter Kate Nicholl telling me she had been selected by her party colleagues to be the next Lord Mayor of Belfast and that she wanted Positive Life to be one of her mayoral charities.
To be given the opportunity to collaborate on a regular basis with the Lord Mayor to tackle the longstanding issue of stigma and to promote a positive understanding of HIV was a genuine privilege for everyone in Positive Life.
Before becoming Lord Mayor, we’d worked already worked closely with Kate so she was well informed about the work we do and what we want to achieve. Her personal experiences also gave her a real insight into the challenges facing people living with HIV – whether it’s the difficulties they face in accessing employment due to their status, Northern Ireland’s inconsistent approach to sexual health and Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE) provision, or, of course, the all too frequently experienced day-to-day prejudices.
The Lord Mayors recognition of Positive Life in this way was hugely significant in terms of what it represented. It conveyed to people living with and affected by HIV in our city that we as a city stand with them and their voice is being heard by important decision makers.
Once the announcement was made public Kate hit the ground running, meeting our service users on several occasions to hear about their lived experiences directly and understand how NI as a society needs to improve.
When Kate first came to Belfast City Council, Positive Life was one of the first meetings she took. As she moved on to her role as an MLA we were the last in her role as Lord Mayor and this was definitely one of the highlights of our year as she hosted the launch of our new corporate partnership project the ‘Northern Ireland Buyers Club’. Over 100 invited guests heard from Kate about the importance of getting involved and what they could do to positively impact the lives and experiences of people affected by HIV.
Throughout her tenure Kate constantly raised the voices of people impacted by HIV. On World Aids Day she opened Belfast City Council’s meeting with a letter from one of our 19-year-old service users highlighting the discrimination and marginalistion she has experienced. This was a hugely significant and poignant moment.
Being nominated as a mayoral charity, increased our opportunities to raise awareness and campaign on behalf of our service users. Our stall at the Belfast Christmas market was a hit and we engaged with countless members of the public having conversations to bust the myths and educate to increase awareness and understanding.
It has quite simply been an incredible year.
From the entire team at Positive Life, I want to thank Kate for her support, enthusiasm, and kindness she has shown to the team and most importantly to our service users.