A memorial to honour those lost to AIDS and those living with HIV is being erected in Birmingham, in a historic first for the region. The Birmingham AIDS and HIV Memorial (BAHM) will be permanently positioned in Hippodrome Square in the city’s Southside district and will be unveiled on 1 December to coincide with World AIDS Day.
Over 12 months in the making, the concept of the Birmingham AIDS and HIV Memorial came from local businessman and the designer of the monument, Garry Jones. Having lived with his own experience of the AIDS epidemic, Garry was inspired into action, with others, after watching the Channel 4 period drama ‘It’s a Sin’. From here, they set out to establish a dedicatory space in Birmingham to remember those lost to HIV.
Now, with support from co-founders, Andrew King and Phil Oldershaw, and successful fundraising campaign to raise £210,000, installers have now broken ground to begin the install for the sculpture.
The huge total for the project was reached, thanks to a host of businesses, charities and organisations from across the region and beyond who pledged their support, including the likes of Birmingham City Council and Birmingham Pride.
Co-founder of the BAHM group, Phil Oldershaw, commented:
“I am in absolute awe that our campaign and fundraising efforts have now paid off, and we are finally getting a dedicated memorial to AIDS and HIV in Birmingham! To be able to reveal on World AIDS Day, this moving tribute to remember all of the lives lost, and to spotlight the thousands of people in our city who are currently living with HIV, is truly humbling. On behalf of all of us at BAHM, I wish to thank all of the businesses, organisations, ambassadors and individuals who have donated to our campaign – this simply wouldn’t be possible without your support.”
News of the memorial’s go-ahead comes as new data reveals that over 3,500 individuals have been diagnosed with HIV in the West Midlands in the past 10 years. The group hopes that the sculpture will act as a talking point to educate and challenge the prejudice and stigma that many individuals living with HIV still face today.
Commenting on the Birmingham AIDS and HIV Memorial, BAHM Ambassador Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, said:
“I’m tremendously proud that the Birmingham AIDS and HIV Memorial will be making Southside its home in December. In the West Midlands alone, over 1,000 people have lost their lives to the virus since the 1980s. To have a dedicated space for loved ones and communities to both celebrate and commemorate their lives is hugely moving and it’s all the more special that it is situated in one of Birmingham’s most diverse areas.
“The West Midlands has a reputation for being an inclusive region and being one of the first to have a permanent memorial for HIV and AIDS – indeed what will be the UK’s largest permanent art tribute – is a testament to this spirit. I hope this memorial will not only serve as a reminder of the crises of the past but also mark the resilience of the present and future, now that medical advances allow people who test positive to live longer, healthier, and happier lives.”
The six-metre-high sculpture will feature two entwined red-ribbon hearts positioned to represent an ‘embrace’. As it weathers, one of the heart ribbons will begin to corrode and rust, representing the millions lost to HIV; meanwhile, the other will be painted red to symbolise those individuals currently living longer and healthier lives with the virus. BAHM is also inviting the public to leave messages of condolence, tributes, and support online, as well as in a physical book of remembrance, which will then be buried beneath the memorial.
“While scientific advance and medical breakthroughs have meant that the quality of life for those diagnosed as HIV positive has significantly improved, the public perception of HIV and AIDS continues to be hugely dated. The misunderstanding and misinformation that surrounds the virus is isolating and dangerous, and we want to encourage people to better understand how, with the support of treatment, people with HIV can live happy, healthy and long lives, undetectable.
“We hope that the memorial will not only stand as a tribute to those who have sadly lost their lives; but will also help to educate people about the virus, so we can end both the stigma and prejudice associated with the HIV community.”
To leave your own message in the digital book of remembrance, head to www.bahm.co.uk/messages; or alternatively visit Birmingham Central Library and ask for the BAHM book of remembrance at reception. The last day for signing is 5pm on Saturday 26 November.
To learn more about the Birmingham AIDS and HIV Memorial, you can visit their website at: www.bahm.co.uk