The Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) is an international voluntary organisation in the Catholic Church, founded in 1833 in Paris with the aim of putting Christian principles into action by serving the poor. Its patron saint is St Vincent de Paul, a French Catholic priest who lived in the 15th and 16th Centuries. He dedicated himself to helping the poor and was renowned for his compassion, humility and generosity. Today, the Society numbers about 800,000 members in some 140 countries worldwide.
The SVP within the Diocese of Brentwood
Brentwood SVP Central Council is divided into nine districts and there are currently 42 SVP groups (so-called conferences) working in parishes across the diocese. Conferences hold regular meetings and plan activities which are tailored to specific local needs but which also lie within the overall mission of the Society.
SVP Charitable Work
Visiting and befriending
Volunteer members work in varied ways to give people a sense of belonging. As well as offering friendship and support, our members give practical help such as food, clothes, furniture or financial help when this is needed. They also organise trips and social events for older people; help with transport to mass and other parish events, raise funds to send children to holiday camps; distribute emergency homeless packs to people on the streets; support prisoners, ex-offenders and asylum seekers and generally respond to local need.
Message from a volunteer: We had been visiting an elderly couple for some time when the husband had to be moved to a residential care home, as his health had severely deteriorated. His wife was left alone at home, unable to visit her husband. We took her to his new place of residence and she was able to give him his Christmas presents and his favourite cake, which he visibly enjoyed. Sadly, he died soon after this visit.
Community Support Projects
This includes our Community Shops, Furniture Stores, Advice and Support Centres, Supported Accommodation and our contract with the Home Office to manage and run two local Approved Premises. SVP members are also involved with the running of local soup runs and food banks.
Message from the St James The Less & St Helen conference: We took on the soup run about a year ago. On the first Monday of each month, we provide sandwiches, sausage rolls, cake and biscuits for the homeless. In addition to tea and coffee, our soup is very popular, especially as one of our members has provided a gas burner for heating up homemade vegetable soup. We average approximately 35 “clients” per session, starting at 8 pm. Not all our “clients” are homeless but this is not an issue as they are clearly in need.
Children’s Camps and Family Holiday Homes
Every year around 2000 disadvantaged children and families enjoy a one-week, care-free holiday in an SVP camp or caravan. Unemployment, illness, bereavement, family breakdown or some other difficult circumstance means that for many, a week away just might not be possible without our help.
SVP groups/conferences in developed countries provide support to SVP groups in developing countries. Twinnage involves mutual prayer support, correspondence and regular financial support. SVP groups in England and Wales can currently twin with SVP groups in India, Sudan, South Sudan, Grenada, Guyana and Romania.
Extract from a letter received by the St Sabina’s & St Monica’s conference from their twin group in Kerala, India (summer 2018): “About the flood, we received the highest rainfall in 90 years. When the Idukki Dam was breached, many bridges and roads were fully destroyed. Many people lost their houses, belongings, clothes etc. Half of Kerala state was under water for a week. […] Now we are struggling hard to reconstruct everything.”
The financial support received by SVP groups in developing countries enables them to provide immediate emergency aid to those in need as well as financing longer term projects and schemes that make the local population self-sufficient, e.g. supplying bicycles, sewing machines, animals, or providing loans to start small business and digging wells to make communities sustainable.
As well as simple twinning between groups in participating nations, additional support can be provided in the form of financing for small projects (up to £1,000), student sponsorship and some larger projects, especially in the Sudan.
A further development has been the Disaster Fund, which is aimed at providing financial support to SVP groups living in disaster areas, who can then provide support to those in need in the local community, not just while the cameras are there, but in the longer term. In the summer of 2018, the SVP raised nearly £300,000 for the victims of the Kerala floods. Local SVP volunteers worked in conjunction with parish priests to enable retiring collections for this appeal.
Our mission is to seek and find those in need, to help them in a spirit of justice and to tackle the causes of poverty where we can. We identify areas where, on the evidence drawn from our practical work, we can speak out with authority and seek to influence policy makers and public opinion. These include food and funeral poverty, immigration detention, isolation (especially among elderly people) and challenges facing refugees and asylum seekers, and prisoners and their families.
The Young Vincentians Apostolates
Aimed specifically at children, adolescents, teenagers and young adults, known collectively as Young Vincentians (YV), our vocation is lived out in over 400 groups spread across 4 different age ranges in England and Wales, which we call apostolates. Each apostolate is its own programme; co-developed and co-ordinated from the SVP National Office by the National Young Vincentians Coordinator and team, with the groups themselves belonging to the District Councils and Central Councils in which they are located.
Mini Vinnies for 7-11 year olds in schools.
Youth SVP for 11-14 year olds in schools and parishes.
SVP B-Attitude for 14-18 year olds in schools, 6th forms, colleges, and parishes..
SVP 1833 for 18-33 year olds in universities and parishes.