Backed by LEAP Sports Scotland, Waverley Care – Scotland’s HIV, Hepatitis C and sexual health charity – are launching an active social fundraiser next month.
The organisation helps support people all across Scotland, including providing outreach to people living with HIV, sexual health education to young people in schools and a wellbeing service to all men who have sex with men.
Until now Waverley Care has done the bulk of its fundraising in-person at events, but that meant Covid-19 hit the charity particularly badly – wiping out a six-figure sum that amounted to 70% of their annual donations.
Because of that they are taking a new approach to fundraising, focusing their efforts on a Facebook challenge to walk, jog or run 150km throughout November.
Participants will receive a free t-shirt and progress tracker when registering, can log their efforts from wherever they are already based in a way that suits them.
Waverley Care’s fundraising manager Matt Middler, who has already begun a couch-to-5k programme in preparation for his own fundraising attempt, hopes to build a sense of community between participants online as well as expanding the charity’s reach and profile.
“Our main strategic objectives are to be less Edinburgh-centric and more national focused,” Middler said.
“Rather than do stuff on the ground we want to organise fundraising and initiatives where people can take part no matter where they are – Shetland or Glasgow city centre.
“We’re going digital first too. We want to do as much as possible online, and that enables us to become national. We want to make sure that everything we do is digitally accessible so that everyone can take part.
“We’re hoping to have about 500-1000 people from across Scotland join the group. The whole thing about it being social fundraising is that people are hanging out on Facebook already, that’s where they get their information, motivation, and that’s where we build a community that can support each other. When they’re taking part, their network can see it and they might join, and hopefully it has a snowball effect. For us, it’s the first time we’ve ever done a national challenge event on our own.
“150k maybe sounds like quite a lot, 5k-a-day sometimes sounds like a lot, but we’ve kind of broken it down – it’s only 6300 steps.
“We’re saying to people to do it the way they want to do it. If they want to do 5k across a whole day, that’s fine, or if they want to go for a 5k run that’s fine too. I’m doing couch-to-5k, so I was out walking with little 90-second runs, and I clocked up 6k in half an hour. It feels really daunting until you break it down.
“We’re hoping to raise at least £25,000 but that depends on how many people take part. It all depends how many people we get in, and how well we can support them to go as far as possible.
“Some of our services are funded by big funders like the National Lottery, but most of them don’t cover all of the costs, just the bare minimum. Quite often the extras like activities or volunteer expenses, peer support training, even just the money to keep the lights on and pay our bills, it all has to come from fundraising.
“This money will support the work that we do across Scotland. It’s not a very sexy way of putting it, but we couldn’t do what we do without it.”
The fundraiser will also tie in with Waverley Care’s work around World Aids Day at the end of the challenge on December 1.
Middler still sees a stigma around HIV when he talks to people, which is part of the reason the t-shirt participants will receive bears the words “Smash Stigma” on the back.
Public figures like Gareth Thomas are trying to change the perception of what it means to be HIV-positive in the world of sport, but for a lot of people things have not progressed past what Matt Hall faced back in the 1990s.
“It’s still there unfortunately,” Middler admitted.
“In the 80s and 90s around the time of the AIDS epidemic it was in the papers all the time and people were talking about it, but at the same time there were a lot of myths, misinformation and fear about it.
“Advances in medication meant that people were no longer dying, or developing AIDS, which is good. Very few people develop AIDS in the UK any more, which is great, but since then it has gone out of the spotlight.
“People don’t really talk about it outside of LGBT+ communities, because they are the most affected. In general society it isn’t something that people talk about much, so unfortunately a lot of people in the general public’s understanding of what HIV is, how it’s spread, how it’s communicated and what it’s like to live with HIV has carried on from what they read in the 90s.
“They think you catch it by kissing, sharing a toilet seat, cutlery or cups. I’ve herd stories of a guy in London, and his colleagues in his office started putting his mugs through the dishwasher twice at the end of every day. It’s silly things like this that shows people don’t understand.
“There’s also the fear of stigma. Certainly in the gay community people often don’t come out because of the fear of how people will react. Nine times out of 10, it’s not as bad as you think it’s going to be, but the fear of it stops you from coming out and being honest and authentic. I sense that’s similar for people living with HIV, because whether it would transpire or not there’s still a lot of fear about the stigma that they will receive from friends, families and colleagues.
“There’s a long way to go to get people talking about it and realising that we need to look after ourselves and protect ourselves. We need to get to zero new infections, yes, but without stigmatising people who are living with it. It’s now just a long-term health condition where if you take a tablet a day, you can live a long and happy life.”
Get involved with the challenge by joining the Waverley Care Facebook fundraising group here.