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SVP expands support with new groups in Norfolk

The Saint Vincent de Paul Society, or SVP, continues to show signs of growth across the diocese, and over the last year new conferences have started in several new parishes. Two of these are Aylsham and Diss.

The SVP offers practical support, friendship and comfort to people suffering all kinds of sickness, poverty or isolation, whether these are a part of the Catholic community or are currently beyond its borders. Often a particular need sparks the creation of a conference, and that was certainly the case at St John of the Cross church in Aylsham.

Maria Endall and Pauline Andrews from Aylsham had for several years been informally supporting one particular lady – Mary – who was a huge part of the Catholic community but was becoming less mobile. The parish had created a WhatApp group, to communicate about the needs of its more struggling members like Mary.

When Mary moved into a care home, Maria realised that something more organised was needed to ensure that Mary and several people like her received visits and communion. With the support of the parish priest, Fr Peter Raj, she appealed for volunteers to form an SVP group, where those with a compassionate heart and an interest in social outreach could pray together, form deeper relationships and share ideas. The response went beyond Maria’s expectations, and the group launched with ten members.

Each of these brought their own passions, gifts and connections. Mary Wallace, for example, was already working in the café of Aylsham Care Trust, which provides counselling, and provision for elderly people with dementia and those with special needs. She was directly in touch with the kind of people who would need SVP’s support and she was well networked with other caring organisations in the town.

Maria herself lives on an estate where broken families need help and where, in the absence of any youth facilities in the town, anti-social behaviour is growing. A concern for the needs of young people has become a key part of the fledging group.

Chris Falla, another of the founding SVP members, was already visiting on an informal basis. Pauline was already involved in Churches Together in Aylsham and was helping with soup lunches for the homeless and lonely at the Methodist church. Like other members of the group, she was interested in working ecumenically and particularly in building contacts with Aylsham Community Church which does much social outreach.

Aware that a united group of ten can do much more than isolated individuals, the new SVP group is now brainstorming and building its vision of how it can best meet social needs in the parish and beyond.

A similarly encouraging story has been playing out at St Henry Morse parish in Diss. Last autumn around the Feast of St Vincent de Paul, Kevin Escott launched a new SVP conference in the parish with the support of his parish priest, the Fr Alex Anaman, who comes from Ghana.

The new group quickly began visiting needy people in the local community to offer support. One of the early beneficiaries was also a Catholic from Ghana – an asylum seeker who had been moved down from the Midlands and was not just isolated but also on crutches, which made it difficult for her to get about.

One of the conference members had worked in Bangladesh with her then husband, the well-known Dr Jack Preger, setting up a street clinic. She is still involved in helping marginalised people in Dhaka, and the conference is now exploring the possibility of twinning with Bangladesh.

A couple of members are also supporting a man with a visual impairment and the conference is building many relationships with people who have moved into the area and are finding it hard to break into a somewhat closed culture of market town Norfolk.

If your parish does not currently have an SVP group but you would like to have one, please initially talk with your parish priest. If he shares your enthusiasm, please then contact Eldred Willey, SVP Membership Support Officer for East Anglia, on andreww@svp.org.uk, who will be happy to talk you through the process of starting a new conference, and to accompany you as it forms.

Pictured above, from the left, are Victor, Cathy, Mario and Kevin. Pictured below, also from the left, are Mary Endall, Chris Falla, Mary Wallace and Pauline Andrews.