During the mid 80s Fr David Randall, the founder of CARA, had been pastoring people living with HIV/AIDS in his West London parish of St Clement's, Notting Dale. In 1987 his bishop encouraged him to take a sabbatical year in the USA, working as a chaplain in a San Francisco hospital with many AIDS patients. On his return in 1988 he started CARA with a launch meeting in St Stephen's hospital, Fulham Road, where he worked for 2 days a week on the Thomas Macaulay AIDS ward.
'HIV, sadly, is still very much with us. People whose lives and health have been affected by HIV need the sort of support, advice, encouragement, and help that CARA gives in abundance. Above all, it's the friendship CARA offers that matters the most, and that is needed the most.'
The Right Hon. Lord Smith of Finsbury
By 1989 the project had moved to a basement in Lancaster Road W11, owned by the Delamere Trust, opposite the London Lighthouse. As well as offering pastoral care to those directly affected, through its AIDS Ministry courses CARA helped to work out the radical implications of HIV for all churches and pastoral agencies, given the high incidence of loss amongst gay men and drug users, mostly young and unchurched. Funerals, counselling, complementary therapies, community meals, and religious events were offered through a small inter-denominational staff and many volunteers.
Soon the Basement became too small and the office moved to St Andrew's Methodist Church in the same road. The Basement became the service centre, run by volunteers.
David himself was diagnosed HIV positive in 1988 and by 1995.he had to retire, and Mike Way took over. Fr David died in 1996. By 1997 the new combination therapies were mercifully reducing deaths from HIV and the emphasis shifted to supporting people to live as fully as possible in their various settings. The hospice unit in Lighthouse closed in 1998., and with the development of new forms of support and a reemphasis on CARA'S pastoral tasks under the leadership of Lindsay McKenna it was decided to reintegrate the office and centre in spacious accommodation belonging to Fr David's old church, St Clement's. The move took place in 2000 and Paul Kirwan became Director in 2001.
We often ask people what CARA means to them. The most common responses are words like 'family', 'home', 'safety'. CARA continues to be a safe, supportive place where people can start to rebuild their lives after an HIV diagnosis. We also provide a challenge for those who are ready, to get actively involved in providing support for others. This emphasis on positive people supporting positive people is one thing that makes CARA special.
Gatherings, often for lunch, provide a friendly, informal setting for people to build relationships and forge a support network. We find that for many people such gatherings continue to be very important but they don't need them quite as often. For this reason most of our gatherings work on a monthly cycle. The exception to this is the Friday Support Group. This is provided for those who are particularly lonely or isolated or who need a little extra support.
It is probably a unique feature of CARA that we still emphasise the importance of events where people can come along and join when they feel they need it rather than needing to qualify in some way. This is because experience at CARA has shown that many people cannot access the different forms of help they need until they have positive personal relationships.
Another increasingly unique aspect of CARA is our emphasis on availability in providing emotional support to those who are not ready to join gatherings or groups, those who are unable to get to our Centre, or those who for whatever reason need some extra support on a one to one basis. We are usually able to respond immediately when someone is in distress and always within a couple of days.
CARA was founded as a specifically spiritual response to HIV. This approach underpins all our work. For many people who come to CARA, being able to gather with others and share the spirituality or faith is very important. Our Pastoral Visitors are able to provide spiritual support that is affirming of diverse sexual and ethnic identities and sensitive to the problems faced by people who belong to minority groups.
What does the Future hold for CARA?
There are many projects we would love to undertake at CARA such as developing our work with young people, engaging more effectively with faith communities etc. What we will be holding on to, whatever new projects develop, is our emphasis on:
Providing a place of welcome for people to gather and forge networks of support
- A pastoral support service involving one to one emotional support when people need it most
- Creatively exploring spirituality and the resources of faith traditions for living well with HIV