St Vincent de Paul Society wins Big Society Award

David Cameron today recognised the work of the St Vincent de Paul Society (SVP) in the Big Society Awards of 2014.

"The St Vincent de Paul Society turns concern into action," he said. "The society's incredible number of volunteers build on a 200-year history of lending a practical hand to support those in need."

"I'm delighted to recognise all 10,000 St Vincent de Paul volunteers, and the staff who support them to do their vital work, with this Big Society Award."

Adrian Abel, National President of the SVP, said: "It is so appropriate that this award has come in the bicentenary year of our founder's birth. The award recognises the work of our 10,000 volunteers who give around one million hours of voluntary service, by befriending people with needs in our community."

"The SVP provides practical opportunities for people to turn their concern into action, truly a Society with a big heart."

The SVP is open about being motivated by faith in God.  It primarily works to support the lonely and people in need of practical assistance, and its giving includes befriending and providing food parcels, clothes and furniture. 

In 2013, SVP volunteers made over half a million visits to nearly 90,000 individuals and families across England and Wales.

Those helped included the housebound, older people, hospital patients, those in residential care homes, travellers, the homeless, refugees and people with mental health disorders.

They also co-ordinate school and university volunteer groups, provide debt advice, and run over 40 shops in economically disadvantaged areas.

One volunteer gave an example of their work.

"We arrived, half an hour after our usual visiting time, rang the bell and waited. After a few minutes, Mr Mercer, frail and in his late eighties, opened the door," they explained.

"I thought he looked rather upset and I was afraid we were interrupting something. Then, to my surprise, Mr Mercer leaned his forehead against the wall of the hall and with his shoulders shaking he started to sob quietly.

"I could hear the TV somewhere and I didn't know what to do. I said 'are you alright Mr Mercer?' He replied 'Yes, yes. I just thought that no-one was going to come to see me tonight.'

"Our visit may be the only contact someone has had with another person since the previous week. We may feel we don't do much during a visit, but this is an extraordinary testimony to how much it is appreciated."