London, England
United Kingdom
Notting Hill, 111-117 Lancaster Road London Lighthouse AIDS Memorial Garden since 1 July 1990
Light After Death
An Arts Council funded exhibition reflecting on bereavement. First exhibited in London in 2005.
The Garden at London Lighthouse
The London Lighthouse is very aptly named. From its creation in 1987 the project shone a bright light that helped many during the raging storms of the early days of HIV/AIDS.
The group responsible for creating the project included several counsellors who had been working with issues related to gay mens health, and gay mens ways of dealing with death. The emergence of HIV/AIDS brought these two crashing together. There were a great number of horrific HIV/AIDS related deaths in hospitals in a general atmosphere of fear and ignorance. Sick vulnerable people mostly from a fairly marginalised and misunderstood community – were being handled with gloves, kept in isolation and widely judged as partly or wholly responsible for their plight. Paradoxically, for many the nightmare was compounded by those same people often being kept alive much longer than they wanted to be, in ways that they would not have chosen in a more sympathetic and sensitive medical environment.
Back in the early 80s the prospects for those living with HIV/AIDS were very bleak. The Lighthouse was created as a place where amongst other things people could die with dignity and respect whatever their sexuality, race or drug usage. It was a safe non-judgmental place with an informal atmosphere. A home from home for medical treatment. The sick and dying got to exercise some control over the circumstances of their treatment. Where recovery was not possible many were taken safely and relatively peacefully to dignified deaths with the opportunity for their loved ones to be around them if that was desired.
The sense of light and refuge in a storm extended well beyond the medical regime to the many detailed aspects of the design and fabric of the building. It has attracted many awards. One award winning part of the site that remains as much a focal point today as it was from the start of the project in 1987 is the garden. It was created, and is still lovingly maintained by volunteers under the stewardship of Gary Eisenhower. Its key features include the sense of shelter, safety and calm that it generates for visitors. Its a place for people to come and enjoy themselves, whether in solitary contemplative mode or in company. Being in such a physically sheltered spot it can sustain an enormous variety of plants including bananas trees, kiwis and even some citrus trees. Now that the Lighthouse is no longer a hospice and much more of a drop in centre, the garden – in combination with the adjacent cafeteria – attracts a range of visitors, many with no immediate connection with HIV/AIDS at all.
This is a brief summary of the reflections of three people closely associated with London Lighthouse. Geoff Warburton who was part of the original team setting up the London Lighthouse. Michael Edwards has had a long association with the project originally as part of the residential services team and currently as Head of Reception Services. Gary Eisenhower has been the Garden Coordinator at the Lighthouse since 1988.
Photo © Robert Taylor Taylor Photo

4 February 2005
Robert Taylor, London