A new community support centre has been officially opened in Birkenhead to help those affected by poverty, isolation, addiction and homelessness. St Vincent’s Wirral, run and managed by the St Vincent de Paul Society (SVP), will provide a welcoming hub for the people of the Wirral.
The opening ceremony today (Friday October 15) was attended by the Bishop of Shrewsbury the Right Reverend Mark Davies, Birkenhead MP Mick Whitley, Wallasey MP Angela Eagle, the Mayor of Wirral Councillor George Davies, SVP National President Helen O’Shea, and members of parish SVP groups, who have been instrumental in the creation of St Vincent’s Wirral.
Located on Grange Road West, the building, formerly the Merseyside Centre for Deaf People, hosts a foodbank and a daily afternoon drop-in café, which will reach out to people in need and offer signposting to local service providers who can provide specialised support.
The St Vincent’s Wirral team, led by Manager Kevin Hogan, includes parishioners, local SVP members and volunteers. In creating St Vincent’s Wirral, the SVP identified a range of issues affecting the Wirral community, including alcohol and drugs dependence, homelessness, poverty – particularly for young families, the integration of refugees, and the struggle for individuals to adjust to life after leaving prison.
Kevin Hogan said, “The most important part of what St Vincent’s Wirral is about is connection and belonging. We want the people of our community and the agencies supporting them to feel that they belong here. We want everyone to call in a feel a part of what we are doing and contribute. St Vincent centres offer a warm welcome, a sense of family and belonging and a place to restore dignity.”
The SVP has an almost 200-year history of supporting people experiencing any type of poverty irrespective of ideology, faith, ethnicity, age or gender, to help them to restore their dignity and self-worth. During the past 18 months, the SVP has expanded its services to meet the demands of the post-pandemic world, which has seen alarming increases in poverty, debt, loneliness and mental health decline. The volunteering organisation currently has 12 St Vincent’s centres across England and Wales, however the SVP plans to expand this to cover every diocese, totalling 22 centres.
The COVID-19 pandemic, the end of the £20 Universal Credit increase payment, the effect of the fuel crisis, and the current level of hardship has exposed and exacerbated longstanding inequalities in Birkenhead and across the Wirral, leaving many people in a perilous state. St Vincent’s Wirral aims to offer a place of welcome and support to those experiencing hardship, poverty or isolation.
Offering a blessing for the new centre, Bishop of Shrewsbury, the Right Reverend Mark Davies, said, “Remembering the poor has been an imperative from the dawn of our faith.
“It was true more than a century and a half ago when the St Vincent de Paul Society was founded and sadly it is still true today, and we are facing new forms of poverty in the 21st century.
“I am delighted to see this centre opened for the work of the St Vincent de Paul Society, which has been present in these streets for a century and more and now visible on the high street. I pray that we keep the spirit of that work and go alongside those in need and in any form of distress with practical help.”
Birkenhead MP Mick Whitley, who will be holding some of his weekly MP’s surgeries at St Vincent’s Wirral, added, “The new St Vincent’s Wirral centre is in a great location and with the new space and facilities in the building I believe the SVP will be able to continue its incredibly valuable work. I know that the SVP’s national work has made an enormous difference to the lives of people who have fallen on hard times and have needed support to survive.
“I also want to salute the fantastic work carried out in Birkenhead. The trust and reliability of the Society in this area has been recognised by Wirral Borough Council and formalised in a partnership agreement. Under this agreement the SVP has played a leading role in delivering programmes for the provision of food, furniture, and white goods to vulnerable families.
“SVP volunteers have helped literally thousands of families from hardship and hunger. They give up their time to help break down the isolation felt by almost five thousand elderly people. They work to get homeless people, refugees, asylum seekers, ex-offenders – anyone in need regardless of race or creed – the support that can make a difference to their lives for the better. I really do want to offer the highest praise to these volunteers and to the SVP as an organisation.”
SVP National President Helen O’Shea concluded, “This centre is here because so many people need us, and we are going to help them and hopefully put them on a path to something better and give them hope. At the same time, we have to take their stories and tell them to the powers that be, so that we can work towards a more just society. We are fighting poverty in all its forms in a spirit of justice. That is what we intend to do, and here is where we start, here in Birkenhead.”
St Vincent’s Wirral is at 15-19 Grange Road West, Birkenhead. CH41 4BY
Main image: (Left to right) SVP Deputy CEO Kate Nightingale, SVP National President Helen O’Shea, Wallasey MP Angela Eagle, Mayor of Wirral Councillor George Davies, Bishop of Shrewsbury the Right Reverend Mark Davies, and Birkenhead MP Mick Whitley