Blessings and Advent greetings to all reading this newsletter. This week’s front-page article is coming to you from the Beckenham SVP conference. We would like to open by thanking Fr Ashley as newsletter editor for kindly allowing us to write this article and raise awareness of the SVP.
The Saint Vincent de Paul Society (SVP for short) is an international charity that aims to tackle poverty in all its forms, through the provision of practical assistance to those in need. Saint Vincent was a French priest who dedicated himself to serving the poor back in the 17th century. The Society was founded by another French gentleman named Frederic Ozanam in the 19th century, to help impoverished people living in the slums of Paris.
Fast forward to today, and there is an SVP presence in 153 countries with about 800,000 members in total. There are nearly 10,000 members in England and Wales alone. But even though the SVP is a huge inter-national charity, it operates at parish level. The idea is that each parish has an SVP ‘conference’ (a word that harks back to the Society’s French roots), and this conference sits alongside the church to provide practical support to people living in the parish.
The Beckenham SVP conference currently has about 20 members. Some of us you might recognise from other roles we perform in the parish, whereas others do a good job of keeping their heads under the radar. Some of us are fairly new to the SVP, whereas others are substantially more experienced. One of our members recently celebrated 60 years with the SVP (and his 80th birthday) – a fantastic achievement I’m sure you will all agree. The thing we have in common though, is that we live locally and have a heart for this community. We are always on the look-out for new members, so please contact us if you would be interested in learning more.
The SVP is clear that the concept of poverty is broader than financial hardship, and as such, the SVP’s work in Beckenham has typically centred on supporting lonely people in the parish. We currently stay in contact with about 30 parishioners. In normal times, this entails visiting them in their home, making a cup of tea, and having a chat. Like every-one else, our work was disrupted when the pandemic hit last year, but fortunately we managed to stay in contact with the people we visit over the phone. We were actually able to increase our volume of contacts over the course of the pandemic through telephone befriending, which was one silver lining.
Our help can be more practical however. It might involve arranging a contractor to carry out repair work for someone without access to the internet, or sourcing an item of furniture for a family in financial difficulty. Speaking of which, we would like to thank everyone who has responded to the advertisements for various bits of furniture that have been appearing in the newsletter over the last few months.
We are also privileged to have been supported financially over the years by you, the St Edmund’s congregation. We are very grateful for your help. The money allows us to increase the scope of our support to help a variety of causes such as:
- Helping individuals (after a rudimentary financial assessment) with a big shop, utilities, or essential item that they can’t afford at the moment and can’t be sourced otherwise.
- Running events that benefit people in the local area. We have just hosted a Christmas lunch (pictured) for parishioners who may otherwise have felt left out, and it was a resounding success. Special thanks to the Jolly Woodman pub who sponsored all the drinks, and the wonderful Mini Vinnies from St. Mary’s School, who wowed us all with their excellent singing.
- Funding a food voucher scheme for people who urgently need a hot meal. This is something that we have arranged with the Big Catch restaurant on the High Street. I would like to thank the parish staff for handing out most of these vouchers on our behalf.
- Contributing to SVP initiatives in the developing world, such as funding scholarships for students in India (where the money goes a lot further).
Fr Steve has kindly agreed to let us be the recipients of a second collection this week, and so I hope you will give generously and allow us to continue supporting these causes. Our account details are noted at the end of this article.
We would like to close by launching something we hope will benefit local people most in need. Both we and the parish office have noticed that in recent years, there has been a greater number of people presenting with more complex requirements. Neither the parish team, extremely busy as they are, nor we as volunteers, are equipped to deal with people in these difficult situations. However, we know that there is lots of support available in Beckenham and beyond – it just needs to be ‘unlocked’.
We are therefore excited to launch a new page of the St Edmund’s website that lists local support organised by whatever need you might have. You can access it by clicking HERE. This is our first try and we won’t get it right first time, so if anyone can think of a local organisation we should list under the existing categories, then please let us know. Conversely, if there is a ‘need’ we haven’t thought of, we would like to know about that as well. If you do not have access to the internet then please ask someone you know to print it out for you. Big kudos to Steve Hewitt who helped design this page, and maintains the rest of the St Edmund’s website on a voluntary basis.
We do not want to force Fr Ashley to make the font size of this article too small by writing much more, so we will leave it here. Thank you for reading if you made it this far. If you need any help then our contact details are below – please do not hesitate to reach out to us.
God Bless and Merry Christmas,
Richard Thorn, Beckenham SVP President
Beckenham SVP phone number – 07789 497 482
Beckenham SVP email address – firstname.lastname@example.org