SVP calls for a million gestures of kindness


A number of people attended the welcoming but socially-distanced event, including Fr Martin Sylvester. There were local representatives from other Christian traditions too.

Theresa showed the group three short films made by Pact. In one piece, Lewis, a former prisoner, performs his own powerful spoken word poetry.In another, two former prisoners speak movingly to each other about their experiences, how faith helped them to make a fresh start and how Pact staff and volunteers treated them: ‘They didn’t judge me. They spoke to me like a human being’.

Pact Services Manager, Lesley Ward, also attended the event and explained the life-changing work she leads covering a number of prisons and community hubs in the diocese and further afield. Lesley shared important insights into the challenges of the prison environment, particularly during the pandemic. She was able to give more information about some of the learning opportunities Pact provides, such as the parenting skills training, shown in another Pact short film. Pact works to strengthen family relationships where appropriate as this gives hope and the real potential of living a better life together in the future. Those leaving prison with strong family bonds are 39% less likely to return to crime.

The discussion led to several useful action ideas. While sharing the distressing ‘hidden sentence’ a family can live through alongside their loved one in prison, Theresa highlighted the National Prisoners’ Families Helpline which Pact provides. Fr Sylvester suggested that a poster giving details of the Freephone Helpline number ought to be in every church porch. Theresa agreed to take this forward.

Pact welcomes support from parishes and individuals. To keep in touch, if you have not already signed up to our magazine, Fresh Start, you can do so here: Sign up to Fresh Start | Prison Advice and Care Trust

There are opportunities to work as a volunteer supporting a number of Pact's services in the diocese. Pact has an established training and support programme for volunteers.

Parishes in the diocese may like to think about becoming ‘partners’ to prisons in the region where Pact has a presence. This has worked well in other areas recently. For example, parishioners have worked together to provide gift cards which prisoners can give to their children, sharing a little love and joy and strengthening family bonds this Christmas - as part of Pact's Operation Elf.

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Launching its Awareness Month campaign, which runs throughout September and includes the feast days of SVP founder Blessed Frédéric Ozanam and the Society’s patron saint, St Vincent de Paul, on September 9 and 27 respectively, the SVP is calling for parishioners in the Nottingham diocese to become a member, volunteer a few hours of their time, or donate to support people in need.

In 2017, on September 27, the Feast of St Vincent de Paul, Pope Francis said that charity is central to the Church’s mission: “Charity is at the heart of the Church, it is the reason for its action, the soul of its mission.”

SVP president Helen O’Shea says: “Acts of compassion and kindness don’t always have to be grand, more often they are seemingly insignificant, something most people would view as ‘ordinary’; a chat with a housebound older person, picking up some shopping or medication for a neighbour, sending a card, or even telephoning someone just to say ‘hello’. It’s through a million gestures of kindness like these that we can start to address the enormity of the mountain we must all climb.”

Awareness Month celebrates the extraordinary work of SVP members and volunteers over the past 18 months who have turned their concern into action in their communities.

During September, the SVP’s message of compassion and equality will be heard across parishes and at Mass. Helen O’Shea adds: “Historically, the SVP works quietly, humbly and with dignity to alleviate poverty in all its forms, but over the past 18 months we have proved that we are also agile, innovative and brave. Our work is inspiring, and I invite anyone who feels they want to make a difference in their community to join us and help to fight back against the blight of deprivation and suffering.”

There will be a special Mass on 27 September at the Sacred Heart and Mary Immaculate Roman Catholic Church in Mill Hill, London with Father Eugene Curran.

SVP chief executive Elizabeth Palmer concludes: “Awareness Month highlights the transformative effect of a small gesture and the cumulative effect they can have on a community. It offers a glimpse into the service offered by SVP members who feel the pull to befriend, support, feed, clothe and make a home for anyone who, through the randomness of fate, is in need. Now is the time for everyone to make one of those seemingly small gestures of kindness and build a better future for everyone.”