SVP in East Anglia celebrates its 90th anniversary

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SVP in East Anglia celebrates its 90th anniversary

International Christian voluntary network, the St Vincent de Paul Society is marking the 180th anniversary of its founding in London and 90 years of work in East Anglia.  Jackie Roberts, Central Council Secretary, reports.

The SVP was founded in Paris by Blessed Frédéric Ozanam and a group of fellow students at the Sorbonne University in Paris in 1833. One of these students was George Wigley who wrote articles in The Tablet to raise awareness. 

In January 1844, several Catholics met at the Sabloniere Hotel in Leicester Square, London and agreed to form the first Conference in England. By the end of 1844 four Conferences had been formed in London and they quickly spread beyond the capital, with eight in total started by the end of the year.

At this time, Catholics were in the minority of England’s population and so the early English SVP was cautious about introducing SVP works in a country where the established church was the Church of England. Regardless of their small numbers, during the outbreak of cholera (in both France and England) the Society decided to provide funding for nurses, medicines and even coffins.

The first conference in East Anglia was set up in 1913 in Cambridge, at the instigation of Bishop Keating of Northampton. Members were recruited from the university and town, and the first president was Baron Anatole von Hugel. A year later, the minutes recorded an attendance of 10 to 15 members.

Many members did leave to serve in the war, but the conference continued its activities, adding help given to the soldiers in the camps and hospital, and assistance given to Belgian refugees.

There is still an active conference in Cambridge and now 18 conferences in East Anglia, with 155 members. They are involved in many different activities and projects, the most ambitious and successful one, was the purchase, over a number of years, of three houses in North Norfolk which are used to help the homeless.

Nearly all conferences give out food parcels or vouchers to those in need, help is also given with heating bills, and other needs. White goods, such as fridge freezers, and some furniture items have been bought.

One conference runs a baby essential project, various baby items, such as nappies and baby food are donated or purchased then given to any mum struggling to provide for her baby.

Visiting is a very important part of the SVP work, and visits are made by all conferences to families who are experiencing hardship and to the elderly and lonely in their own homes or in care homes and hospitals.

Outings or tea parties are organised by some conferences, and many bring their parishioners to the SVP annual pilgrimage for the sick in Walsingham. Some are involved with local food banks,  soup runs, prisons and other support organisations.  The SVP also has connections with conferences in third world countries, East Anglia conferences are twinned with conferences in India, South Sudan and Grenada. Many Catholic schools in East Anglia have their own Mini Vinnies, the future members hopefully. 

The beating heart of the SVP is its membership, now numbering 8,500 nationally, with volunteers working in parishes in this diocese as well as across all England and Wales. Supporting the members and recruiting new members is an essential aspect of the society’s work and East Anglia is keen to recruit a Membership Support Officer (MSO) who would be able to do this. A part-time (two-day equivalent) MSO post in the diocese is available and applications are welcome.

If you are interested in the post, joining as a member, or would like to learn more about the SVP please contact Lance Philpott, National Head of Membership at

Pictured top are SVP members packing items from the Giving Tree as Christmas parcels and, below, members at a recent long service award presentation.