Body & Soul, the leading UK charity supporting children, teenagers and families living with and affected by HIV was founded in 1996 by current Director Emma Colyer MBE. Emma recognised the urgent need for specialist support for children and families affected by HIV and Body & Soul was born.
Today Body & Soul is the busiest service of its kind in the UK, supporting over 4000 members with strategies to reduce isolation and stress, improve health and wellbeing and maximise opportunities for successful futures.
To hear more, we spoke to Hannah, who joined their 250-strong team of volunteers just over a year ago, working within the children’s service.
How does Body & Soul help families and children?
“Body & Soul provides a safe and secure place for families, somewhere where they don’t have to keep secrets about their HIV and they are accepted. For children, Body & Soul is a place full of confidence and support, where they are valued and appreciated.
Body & Soul’s weekly groups provide a rare opportunity for children to have another adult’s undivided attention, giving them the chance to do or say things without judgement. Children with behavioural difficulties, or who are on the autistic spectrum, get more consistent, specialist and individual support too. There’s also music and play therapy with professional practitioners, something that particularly benefits those with additional needs.
We have a Sensory Room too – for many, the whole place is a unique environment and you can see that children are genuinely excited and respectful about coming here.
Why do you volunteer at Body & Soul?
“I wanted to volunteer with children and once I discovered Body & Soul’s focus on therapeutic play, I became very interested. It was only when I visited that I began to realise the extent of problems that were being dealt with by children and families living with HIV.
To be honest, when I was considering voluntary work, an HIV charity never really entered my mind (which exemplifies part of the general problem they face). I probably assumed the issue to be more distant than it actually is. I didn’t really consider that children living in the same city, people I may see everyday, could be affected by these difficulties.
So much goes on at Body & Soul at any one time, just within the children’s service where I volunteer. They also support older children, teenagers, adults and families. An evening in the children’s centre involves any of a number of activities. Every week there’s a theme, for example “the body” – so there could be internal organs from the butcher for the kids to explore and learn from, or we might make “brain hats” to show what different parts of the brain are for.
There are also weekly activities such as Launch Pad, which focuses on educational support. There are literacy activities or I sometimes help a child with their homework. At each weekly session, all the children and volunteers sit down to dinner together. It sounds trivial, but sharing mealtimes is an important part of everyday life that we often take for granted. It’s lovely to be able to share it with the children. Personally, I couldn’t ask for better company at the dinner table!
What do you hope for Body & Soul in the future?
“HIV is extremely misunderstood. I hope that Body & Soul can continue to help raise awareness and increase understanding. I’ve been genuinely alarmed at some people’s misconceptions about HIV.
Stigma is the major obstacle that families encounter and it’s so important that people open their minds more, to understand that HIV is a real issue, but also that it’s possible to lead a normal life with HIV. I hope in the future that people will continue to support Body & Soul – whether that’s through donating, volunteering or spreading the word. ”
What do you love about volunteering at Body & Soul?
“It’s really nice to work with people who appreciate children. I’ve worked in other environments where adults speak at children, rather than with them, but we don’t do that at Body & Soul.
I’m currently a student, hoping to pursue a career in play therapy, so I feel lucky to soak up skills and knowledge that increase my understanding of support strategies and techniques.
Most of all though, I love working closely with the children. It never ceases to amaze me how creative and independent they can be. Once I was asked by one of the children ‘Why do you do this job Miss?’ and I replied ‘Because children are much more fun than adults!’ And I really meant it.”