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Date updated: 31/10/2022

The archives of Positively UK (formerly Positively Women) and Mildmay Mission Hospital, alongside 103 filmed interviews by the National HIV Story Trust, form LMA’s Positive History project, which aims to make accessible to researchers these three recently acquired archive collections. Together the three collections illuminate important threads of the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and its aftermath. They reveal pioneering medical treatment, care and support and record the lived experience of those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and their carers, partners, relatives and friends.

In April 2022, with work by project archivist Chris Olver well underway on making the interviews of the National HIV Story Trust accessible, a second project archivist, Amy Proctor, was appointed to begin making accessible the archives of Positively UK and Mildmay Hospital.

Positively UK was founded in 1987 by two women living with HIV who found that there were no peer led support services for women. They started the organisation by placing hand drawn posters at clinics inviting other women to meet in their living room. Initially only aimed at women, over time new communities turned to the organisation for support. Sitting alongside its peer led support services is its campaigning and policy work to improve services and care for people living with HIV. The archives comprise photographs, annual reports, newsletters, magazines and other publications demonstrating the breadth of the activity and the reach of its work from 1980 to date. These records have now been catalogued with file and collection level descriptions soon to be available on the LMA online collections catalogue.

A selection of magazines and leaflets from the archive of Positively UK
A selection of magazines and leaflets from the archive of Positively UK

The cataloguing of these records has also facilitated a number of workshops at LMA in collaboration with Positively UK and the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (RSSD) which aim to support women living with HIV in exploring and interrogating the archive and, alongside students from the University, to use the archive as an inspiration to produce new writing and performance and to develop material and ideas. This will result in the production of a film and podcast later this year. So far four well-attended workshops have been held which have provided an opportunity for vibrant and animated use of the archives. A further three took place during October.

Work on the project is now also focusing on the archives of the Mildmay Mission Hospital. The origins of the hospital date back to 1866 when the vicar of St. Jude, Islington and deaconesses from the Mildmay Mission began to care for the sick and their dependents in East London during a cholera outbreak. The work of the deaconesses subsequently expanded and in 1892 Mildmay Mission Hospital opened, becoming a part of the National Health Service in 1948. However, as a hospital with less than 200 beds, over time it was regarded as uneconomic and was closed in 1982. The closure was strongly protested against and in 1988 it reopened as Europe’s first hospice caring for people with AIDS-related illnesses. As medication developed and need changed, Mildmay quickly adapted its focus from end-of-life care to specialist assessment and rehabilitation.

Today Mildmay is an internationally recognised pioneer of specialist HIV service delivery and care. In 2014 a new purpose-built hospital was opened in East London, close to where Mildmay’s original work began. The archives comprise the corporate records of the hospital including minutes, reports, publications, newsletters, photographs and examples of work produced by patients during art therapy sessions, alongside case files for deceased patients with AIDS-related illnesses.

The corporate records will be made available to researchers after being catalogued according to international cataloguing standards, with file and collection level descriptions being accessible on the LMA online collections catalogue. The case files of patients will not be available for general access due to the sensitive personal information they contain, often not only regarding the patient but also those close to them. However, in recognition of the files as a rich and invaluable source for documenting the development of treatment and care of people with HIV and AIDS-related illnesses, the project archivist is responsible for creating a fully searchable database extracting information from each file. The extracted information includes (but is not limited to) name of patient, date of diagnosis, medical conditions and illnesses, medication regimes, social situation and reason for admission.

The information contained in the files does vary over time and in order to ensure consistency in the data harvested from the files the project archivist is identifying, where possible, standardised terminology and recording supporting information about the work of the hospital in order to assist in future use. This work is now underway.

Art Therapy albums from the archive of Mildmay Mission Hospital
Art Therapy albums from the archive of Mildmay Mission Hospital

As part of the series of public engagement and outreach events, film screenings and workshops that are taking place over the course of the project LMA will also be holding an end of project conference which will given an in-depth look at these collections and some of the challenges of cataloguing records of a contemporary pandemic. The conference will be held on Friday 10 March 2023, with more details to follow.

For more information about upcoming project events please see London Metropolitan Archives Events on Eventbrite