World Aids Day: 'Red Ribbons' memorial sculpture unveiled in Birmingham

ITV News Central Reporter Lewis Warner on the unveiling of a new HIV/Aids memorial on World Aids Day

A memorial to honour those who have died with AIDS and those living with HIV has been unveiled in Birmingham.

The six-metre high steel sculpture features two entwined ribbon hearts positioned to represent an ‘embrace’.

It was created by Black Country artist, Luke Perry, and stands at Hippodrome Square on Hurst Street.

As the sculpture weathers, one of the heart ribbons will begin to corrode and rust, representing the millions lost to HIV. Meanwhile, the other has been painted red to symbolise those individuals currently living longer and healthier lives with the virus.

The sculpture was unveiled at around 6pm on Thursday 1 December - World Aids Day - and was part of a special remembrance service.

  • WATCH: The moment the memorial was unveiled

There was also live entertainment, performances and a candle-lit procession as well as speeches by the sculpture designer and founder of Birmingham's Aids and HIV memorial (BAHM), Garry Jones.

The sculpture was inspired by the hit tv show, 'It's A Sin', which follows the story of a group of gay men during the Aids/HIV epidemic in 1980s London.

Mr Jones explains it was then that he felt the need to create a memorial: "The stigma and the prejudice is still there and that's the killer. By doing this memorial, we're trying to get rid of that."

'You carry a sort of guilt, that somehow you deserve it and you're scared to speak about it'

He adds: "It's only recently that I told members of my family that I was HIV positive and I've been HIV positive for 16 years.

"You carry a sort of guilt, that somehow you deserve it and you're scared to speak about it because you don't know what people's reaction is and really.. it's only a virus isn't it?"

For Phil Oldershaw, co-founder of the HIV/Aids memorial, who was in his 20s during the 1980s, the sculpture has provided an opportunity to reflect.

Phil Oldershaw, co-founder of the HIV/Aids memorial Credit: ITV News Central

He said: "I lost quite a few friends or acquaintances I made over a period of time. One minute you'd be out partying with them, the next week they may have been taken poorly and wasn't coming out.

"Some months later you'd hear that they had passed away, and often you wouldn't even get to go to their funeral because their family didn't want anybody else to know".

Rachel Greave is a peer mentor for people living with HIV/Aids at Positive Peers

Rachel Greave is a heterosexual woman living with HIV. She is living proof medical advances mean a diagnosis isn't a death sentence.

"In the beginning, it was horrific," she told ITV News.

"I didn't know anything about it. I didn't know whether I could get my haircut. I had a load of tissues because I'd been crying and blowing my nose. I didn't know what to do with those. That's how my stigma was. So I know other people will have similar stigmas.

"I'm learning about it and I now know this is far from the case. I don't know how I would have coped, going to see my consultant and him telling me I have two years to live.

"Whereas when I met my consultant he told me I had the rest of my life to go

The memorial is part of a global partnership - The Fast Track Cities initiative - which aims to reduce stigma and eliminate HIV, Viral Hepatitis (Hep B and Hep C) and Tuberculosis (TB).

The initiative sees city officials from around the world working together with partners such as local authorities, the NHS, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and industry representatives in order to develop an action plan to reduce stigma and eliminate viruses such as HIV, Viral Hepatitis (Hep B and Hep C) and Tuberculosis (TB).

In October 2022, the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Councillor Maureen Cornish, welcomed partners from across the city to witness the signing of the Paris Declaration and officially register Birmingham to the Fast Track Cities+ initiative.

The sculpture will be unveiled from 6pm on Thursday 1 December - World Aids Day - and will be part of a special remembrance service. Credit: ITV News Central

Dr Stephen Taylor, clinical lead for Birmingham Fast Track Cities initiative, and HIV consultant at Birmingham Heartlands Hospital, said: “The new AIDS and HIV Memorial in Birmingham City centre not only acts a memorial to those we have lost to HIV in the last 30 years, but it can also act as a focal point to change the attitudes toward HIV moving forwards.

"The only way we can hope to eliminate HIV in Birmingham is to educate the public of the need to get tested, that means addressing the stigma that still surrounds HIV that stops people testing.

"If this new memorial can kick start these conversations and encourage people to get tested for HIV and other blood-borne viruses than can only be a significant step forwards towards achieving the ambitious targets of eliminating all new cases of HIV, Hepatitis B, C and TB by 2030.”