CHRISTMAS came early for a project which supports people suffering from HIV and AIDS, when it was awarded a £42,000 grant.

The Positive Place, in Deptford, was awarded the cash by the Bridge House Estates Trust to improve its information services, complementary therapies and work training for its users.

Its work has helped many HIV sufferers improve their health and some people have even managed a return to work something which would have been impossible several years ago.

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Chief executive Peter Strickland said: The project was started in 1992 by a group of Lewisham-based positive people and, through collaboration with the health authority, we got funding.

We run workshops around people gaining skills, enabling people to go out into the community.

In the early days, people felt a positive diagnosis was the end of their life but now people are living with HIV rather than dying with HIV.

The project has a creche and helps people, from children to the elderly, from Greenwich and Lewisham through to Bexley and Bromley.

It provides training in information technology and enables skills to be developed in an environment sympathetic to the strict regime modern drug therapies impose.

Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham health authority has the highest number of people diagnosed with HIV in the country more than 10 times the national average.

The Bridge House Estates has given more than £75m since 1996 to a wide variety of organisations, including an exceptional grant for the new millennium bridge.

Bridge House Estates chief executive, Peter Rigby said: I am thrilled to be able to announce some early good tidings as we approach Christmas. For many, this is a very happy time of year, but for others it is a sad and difficult period.

It is essential we do not forget those who are less advantaged or privileged.

l Information on clinics and support groups is available from the National Aids helpline on 0800 567123 or the African HIV Aids helpline on 0800 096 7500.