When the National Long Term Survivors Group (NLTSG) first held its residential weekends at Glenfall House Cheltenham, members wondered who would be missing, at the next weekend.  Back in the early 90s, living with HIV for five years was considered long-term survival, which explains the five-year rule that was in place long after it became irrelevant.

HiVitality brings the group up to date and is able to face the very different HIV landscape at the present time where it is seen as an easily manageable long-term condition, and that people with an undetectable viral load cannot transmit the disease.  The essential characteristics of the group, however, remain.  The Living Proof Retreats provide a safe space where people living with HIV can talk openly about their concerns and life challenges they may be facing.

Informal facilitated groups allow for discussions on topics of greatest concern to participants.  The atmosphere is relaxed, and opinions are listened to in a non-judgemental way.  Often, the most fruitful discussions take place outside the organised groups over drinks or at mealtimes.  Sometimes, people go on talking late into the night.

None of the organised activities are obligatory, so you can opt in or out according to your mood.  Fully qualified therapists offer a range of treatments, and meals are nutritiously wholesome using local produce whenever possible.  The small, dedicated staff always try to offer alternatives for those with special dietary requirements.  As a truly long-term HIV survivor, I heartily recommend them. 

Maurice Greenham – Staffs 

Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of the retreats is the amount of laughter to be heard.  But one shouldn’t overlook the benefits of the natural settings of the retreats, whether at Shallowford House in rural Staffordshire, or in the outstanding natural beauty of the Peak District.  Apart from the restful, maintained gardens surrounding the house, Shallowford has a large meadow area which has developed over the years into a haven for wildlife.  Domestic animals include a pair of Alpacas called Evan and Bruce, two young pygmy goats, peacocks as well as hens, ducks and geese.         

When I was first diagnosed with HIV in 2013, I was lost, and I couldn’t find a way through this massive thing

George House Trust (GHT) in Manchester introduced me to the charity.  The weekends have changed my understanding of HIV and how others have dealt with their HIV+ diagnosis.  I thank from my heart, to all the facilitators and everybody, who arranges the weekends.

CB – Stockport

I am a Mixed Race 58 year old woman, taking part in the HiVitality retreats has been so helpful to me over the years, to be able to talk freely and just be myself has been an important part in my journey. 

The last one in July (2021) was amazing.  I got a lot out of it, especially after shielding.  I was able to participate with a diverse group which helped me with my health to be able to mingle in a very safe place and to feel safe as well.  Would not know what to do if we never had this space.
Thank you Shallowford House.
 
JW – London

I wanted to write and acknowledge this past weekend’s retreat at Shallowford. This was my third retreat, since being diagnosed in May 2019. Over the past two and a half years I have gone through many different emotions, learning how to accept and live with the diagnosis. The retreats have supported me enormously and I have met some great people there and made some good friends. I am not open with family and friends about living with hiv and the retreats provide an opportunity to speak openly and in a safe environment

The first retreat I attended was at Shallowford in December 2019 and due to the covid restrictions it was not until June 2021 that I attended the second one at the Nightingale. I was honestly expecting this last weekend (Dec 2021) to be postponed/cancelled due to the evolving covid crisis, but following the reassuring communications I received from the booking secretary, I was pleased to hear that it was still able to go ahead. Thank you to all of you for putting on the event and for the smooth running of it, with all the usual activities. 

The things that I would like to highlight for the future is the need to move with the times and to try and attract a younger and more recently diagnosed audience. 
Those who attend the retreats should do so with an open mind, accepting of other people’s beliefs, lifestyles and opinions and should not use the weekend as some kind of holiday. 

Thanks again, and looking forward to seeing you again in 2022. 
Mark – Bucks
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