Focus: Frontline - Lighthouse King's Centre

Anita Pati, anita.pati@haynet.com

WHAT IT IS: A Terrence Higgins Trust service in south London for people with HIV who have been referred from nearby King's College Hospital

WHAT IT DOES: Offers an assessment and referral service, immigration and housing advice, emotional support, an antenatal clinic and acupuncture

HOW IT'S FUNDED: King's College Hospital, The Monument Trust, Southwark Primary Care Trust, corporate donors

In a gated courtyard in a rough area of south London stands Lighthouse King's, the Terrence Higgins Trust's first integrated HIV health and social care project in the country. The centre was established after consultants at King's College Hospital highlighted the increasing difficulty of dealing with the multiple and complex needs of HIV patients. The centre's cheerful decor is a contrast with the harrowing experiences of those who use the service. Many of the centre's clients have contracted HIV through extra-marital sex, rape and torture.

Maureen, a 36-year-old Kenyan woman who has been in the UK for eight years, has been using the centre for two years. "Those years were very hard,"she says. "I was alone in the UK without any family. I used the counselling service and that gave me such strength to carry on.

"It also gave me the courage to tell my family back home about my status - something I thought I would never be able to do, with all the stigma that surrounds HIV."

Terry is a 36-year-old white gay man. He has been using Lighthouse King's for six months and was shocked and scared about his diagnosis. He says the centre was a lifeline for him. "It was like a family unit, where I could be open and discuss my status and not worry about being judged," he says.

Changing client profile

The client profile has changed in the past 18 months as the project has moved from supporting gay men to dealing primarily with people in the African communities that have sprung up in the area, many of whom are asylum seekers.

The centre now has a dedicated African emotional support worker who is trained to deal with their unique needs.

Adam Wilkinson, manager of Lighthouse King's, explains: "Gay men fit the model of counselling very well but, as more people from African countries are diagnosed with HIV, we've had to be more flexible, client-centred and client-appropriate, which can involve a less formal approach to the concept of counselling."

Wilkinson's key challenge will be to secure adequate funding from the local PCT, although the centre benefits from THT's large fundraising department and corporate donors.

He says that local HIV charities are starting to club together because HIV funding is no longer ring-fenced by health authorities. "Now all health charities are grappling for the same pot of money," says Wilkinson.

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