Positive Allies are delighted to announce the Welsh National Opera as the proud latest holder of our Positive Allies Charter Mark, which pledges to tackle HIV-related stigma within organisations, large and small. Read about the successful journey of the Welsh National Opera, below.
In 2021, the Welsh National Opera began a collaborative project with Fast Track Cardiff. This project was created to tackle societal stigma surrounding HIV in support of Cardiff’s journey towards achieving zero HIV transmissions by 2030. From this, the Three Letters community song-cycle was born.
The inspiration came from the AIDS Quilt Songbook project which began in 1992. This original songbook was conceived by American baritone William Parker who was dissatisfied with how people living with HIV/AIDS were treated within the musical community. The standard repertoire performed did not mention HIV or AIDS and the related effects so William contacted several prominent composers to create songs inspired by the lived experiences of those living with and dying from the disease.
Through the Three Letter project, WNO and Fast Track Cardiff wanted to utilise WNO’s International expertise in the performing arts to create a new set of songs which explore the stories of individuals living with HIV in Cardiff & the Vale of Glamorgan today. The project began with a creative workshop day for over 160 Year 10 students at Cardiff West Community High School, which included sessions with writer and activist Mercy Shibemba, playwright and actor Nathaniel J Hall and representatives from Fast Track Cardiff. Subsequently, a smaller group of students from the school collaborated with Mercy, composer Michael Betteridge, and singer Siân Cameron, to create the first song of WNO’s Three Letters songbook: We learn, we know, we understand.
In 2022, the project continued and saw Mercy collaborate with Welsh singer songwriter Eädyth Crawford and WNO Vocal Intern Aliyah Wiggins to create the second song in the Three Letters songbook, All These Dreams. This song conveys the message about finding your voice and discovering yourself.
During the same time as the Three Letters project, the team at WNO began internal discussions within the Inclusion and Diversity Taskforce, to ensure that the Company is inclusive of individuals living with HIV. Developing the discussions into a programme of work broadening throughout the wider Company. WNO staff were introduced to Positive Allies. It was during the internal discussions that the idea began to take shape to apply for the Positive Allies Charter Mark. In further meetings of the Inclusion and Diversity Taskforce it was decided that WNO’s Three Letters team would lead the pursuit for the Charter Mark, due to their high level of familiarity with the project and collaborative partners involved.
By February 2022 WNO began offering HIV and AIDS Awareness Training to staff, provided by Positive Allies. 20 individuals participated and completed the training by the end of 2022. Following the inspiring and provoking training, we were able to introduce HIV Champions to ensure that WNO possesses a HIV inclusive environment for staff and to continue pursuing HIV and AIDS awareness work throughout the Company.
For the application to gain the HIV and AIDS Awareness Charter Mark, we created a HIV and AIDS Staff Policy, updated the Dignity at Work policy to indicate zero tolerance of victimisation, harassment, bullying or discrimination of any kind towards those living with HIV or AIDS. We have also ensured that HIV literature is available to all staff members and are organising an internal programme of events to raise HIV and AIDS awareness and reduce stigma.
For WNO to successfully receive the HIV and AIDS Awareness Charter Mark awarded by Positive Allies, signifies recognition for the work completed so far as part of the Three Letters project alongside the actions of the Inclusion and Diversity Taskforce to spread awareness throughout the Company. A new diversity webpage is currently being created where we can showcase the Charter Mark logo. As a community engaging Company, WNO strives to tackle societal stigma surrounding HIV in support of Cardiff’s journey towards achieving zero HIV transmissions by 2030. Future workshops have been arranged to continue with the Three Letter songbook and work with young people from Children’s HIV Association (CHIVA), allowing the young people to utilise opera as a tool for communication and share their experience surrounding HIV.