During the mid-1980s Fr David Randall, who founded Cara, had been providing pastoral care for people living with HIV/AIDS in his West London parish of St Clement's, Notting Dale. In 1987 his bishop encouraged him to take a sabbatical year in the USA, working as a chaplain in a San Francisco hospital where there were many AIDS patients.
On his return to London in 1988 he started Cara with a launch meeting in St Stephen's hospital, Fulham Road, where he worked for 2 days a week on the Thomas Macaulay ward.
'HIV, sadly, is still very much with us. People whose lives and health have been affected by HIV need the sort of support, advice, encouragement, and help that Cara gives in abundance. Above all, it's the friendship Cara offers that matters the most, and that is needed the most.'
The Right Hon. Lord Smith of Finsbury
By 1989 the project had moved to a basement in Lancaster Road in Ladbroke Grove, owned by the Delamere Trust, opposite the London Lighthouse. As well as offering care to those directly affected, through its AIDS Ministry courses Cara helped to work out the radical implications of HIV for all churches and pastoral agencies, given the high incidence of loss amongst gay men and drug users, mostly young and unchurched. Funerals, counselling, complementary therapies, community meals, and religious events were offered through a small inter-denominational staff and many volunteers.
Soon the Basement became too small and the office moved to St Andrew's Methodist Church in the same road. The Basement became the service centre, run by volunteers.
David himself was diagnosed HIV positive in 1988 and sadly died in the Lighthouse building in 1996. In 1997 the new combination therapy drugs began mercifully reducing deaths from HIV and our emphasis shifted to supporting people to live as fully as possible in their various settings. We’ve continued to develop since then, trying to ensure that we continue to make life better for people living with HIV.
According to Wikipedia, Cara means friend in Irish. Cara also means beloved in Latin. Kara, the alternative spelling, is from the Cornish word, meaning love. We like that. The name is also that of an island in the Inner Hebrides, lying just off the southern tip of the Isle of Gigha. Sadly it’s not ours.
When we ask people what Cara means to them the most common responses are words like 'family', 'home', 'safety'. So, clearly it’s important that Cara continues to be a safe, supportive place for people with HIV. We also provide a challenge for those who are ready, to get actively involved in providing support for others. This emphasis on positive people supporting positive people is one thing that makes Cara a special place.