When HIV peer support charity Positively UK needed to relocate recently, they were daunted by the challenge of finding premises that delivered on all of their requirements. Fortunately Garry Brough, the charity’s interim CEO, found St. Mark’s Studios in Islington, and Needspace? was able to help when they were ready to make their move.
“Positively UK was set up over 30 years ago, originally as a women’s charity, from two of our founding members’ homes. In the last decade our peer support offer has extended to anyone living with HIV, from the point of diagnosis, in order to provide practical and emotional guidance towards a confident, empowered and fulfilling future for anyone living with the condition,” Garry explained.
“Now we’ve grown to a team of 18, working at different days and times. Ten or 11 of us are here full time, with our part time staff hot-desking. For many years, we’d been in City Road; when our building was redeveloped into flats, we’d moved into the Georgian terrace right next door. It had been converted to offices a long time previously; it was already dated and tired, yet our rent seemed to be increasing as the property was deteriorating! Lots of our time was being sucked into dealing with property problems there; at around the same time, our former CEO left and it seemed the perfect opportunity to make changes.
“St Mark’s Studios was the very first place we saw, back in late summer last year,” Garry recalled. “However, our lease ran until April of this year so our hands were tied; we had to keep our options open and keep looking. Nothing we saw was anywhere near such a good fit for us – including some extremely glossy, high-spec brand new offices we were offered. Their rate for the first two years, discounted by 50%, was the same price as Needspace? but the environment would have created a false impression for us as a grass roots charity, and we could never have justified the full price once it leapt up.
“St Mark’s Studios is also a really good location for us. As well as supporting people living with HIV across London, we’ve trained 700 people from across the country to build a nationwide peer to peer support network, so being well served by buses and the overground rail lines is essential. That said, being set back off the high street means it’s a bit quieter, and we all appreciate being in an up-and-coming area; there’s a lot more choice around locally for staff for than where were before in City Road, and we prefer the Holloway Road price of a sandwich than what we’d pay in Upper Street! And we even have nice external spaces with decking and chairs for staff to enjoy here.
“The St Mark’s building itself has real character; it’s been modernised without being made soulless. Accessibility was a major driver behind our move; some of our visitors have mobility considerations to take into account. Discretion is also a factor; it’s important to us that our visitors don’t feel anxious about being identified as having HIV when they come here. As well as offices, we needed a space big enough for training and group support sessions, as well one-to-one rooms; we have two of them here. We regularly provide out-of-hours meetings and support, and the entry system and 24/7 set-up here works well for that.
“Between our first viewing and getting close enough to the end of our previous lease, the large office we’d seen initially had been let, but Needspace? had two smaller offices available, so we’ve been perfectly comfortable while waiting for Edward to get back to us when a larger space opened up, which we’ll be moving into in June. It encouraged us to rationalise about half of our accumulated superfluous stuff in the move anyhow! OneByte, Needspace’s IT company, have been great liaising with our IT guy too, even helping us out with teething troubles with our new phone handsets.
“Our biggest challenge as a charity is being here long term for people with HIV who, with advances in treatment, can expect to lead long and fulfilling lives. Spending our funding wisely – getting the best value to deliver what the people we support need – is of utmost importance to us, and we’re satisfied that our move to St Mark’s Studio’s has helped us to achieve that.”