A new memorial to remember those who died from an Aids-defining illness and those who have survived could be sited somewhere on Tottenham Court Road in time for World Aids Day 2021 — 40 years since the first patients were diagnosed — if plans by a campaign group are successful.
The London AIDS Memorial will remember those touched by HIV/Aids across the UK and will be the first such monument in London.
Ash Kotak who is leading the campaign for the memorial said that Fitzrovia and sites either side of Tottenham Court Road have a strong connection to the 40 year history of HIV and Aids.
To the west of Tottenham Court Road lies the site of the Middlesex Hospital, which used to stand on Mortimer Street, where the first Aids ward in the UK was set up.
It became famous in 1987 when Princess Diana made a visit. In front of television cameras and the press she shook the hand of a man suffering with the illness, and she did so without gloves — publicly and viscerally challenging the myth that HIV/Aids was passed between people by touch.
Nearby was James Pringle House, which used to stand on Charlotte Street, a clinic for the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases and which saw some of the first cases of HIV.
Today on the east side of Tottenham Court Road is the successor to the Middlesex Hospital, University College Hospital, and also the Bloomsbury Clinic, part of The Mortimer Market Centre, which is one of the busiest HIV treatment centres in the UK.
“Delivering the permanent London AIDS Memorial on Tottenham Court Road will offer a place for us to remember our dead from Aids-defining illnesses in London, celebrate resilience and resistance and the advances that have been made towards survival and also unite us to fight on to end HIV transmissions and Aids deaths worldwide,” says Kotak.
“Forty-two percent of 37.9 million people living with HIV worldwide still cannot access lifesaving medications and they may die. Further, anyone on working medications today cannot pass on HIV to anyone else.
“Shame and stigma stops people testing. It also caused many people dying of an Aids-defining illness to be rejected. Their families and friends could not talk about their loved ones and Aids because of the reaction.
“The #LondonAIDSMemorial will bring closure for so many and also mark HIV in London, saying it happened here, it was terrible and we must never forget,” says Kotak.
The exact location on Tottenham Court Road has yet to be decided and Fitzrovia News understands that finding a suitable site has proven to be difficult due to a lack of public open space, especially as the memorial is of such importance to not only London but the UK.
A final design for the memorial has yet to be revealed but it will be based on the idea of a “Tree of Resilience, Resistance and Resonance”, according to the campaign’s fundraiser page. In January Fitzrovia News was shown early designs for the tree which would be cast in bronze and stand around three-and-a-half metres tall.
A Camden Council spokesperson told Fitzrovia News: “We are proud to be working with AIDS Memory UK Campaign to bring forward plans for a memorial on Tottenham Court Road that will remember all those who have sadly died from the virus.
“It will also pay tribute to the lives saved by our local health services, from the first Aids ward at the former Middlesex Hospital to the important medical work that continues in the area today.”
A formal application to site the memorial is due to be submitted to Camden Council within weeks. The London AIDS Memorial campaign hopes to be able to unveil it in time for World Aids Day on 1 December 2021 — 40 years since the first cases of Aids were reported.