Building a community through faith at Ely Bridge

(originally published in the SVP newsletter)

Building a community requires faith. You need to have faith in your plan, the talents of your team and the will of people who live in the community to congregate around a shared idea. Since St Vincent’s Ely Bridge opened on November 22, our faith has been rewarded by the community coming together in a beautiful way rooted in faith.

First Minister Mark Drakeford issued a message of hope and sanctuary as he officially opened this centre on Mill Road in Ely, saying: “Here, in this building, there will be people who, because they have very busy lives, because they are looking after other people, sometimes need that moment when they can stop, rest, speak to somebody else, and feel that sense of sanctuary in their own lives… Hope is what they will find inside these walls. A moment to reassess, to regroup, to think of a future that will be the right one for them. None of that is possible without the people who will be here to help them on that journey.

“The building is fantastic, but a building without people inside it to do the work which will go on here is just a shell. What we make of this building is what provides that sense of hope and of sanctuary.”

Since Mr Drakeford uttered those words, we have established a range of initiatives to support and empower the community.

Among these, St Vincent de Paul Society (SVP) volunteers run and manage a food delivery service providing free food to families and individuals in need. We supply fresh fruit and vegetables to ensure the people we support don’t suffer nutritional poverty.

We also run a ‘cuppa and natter’ group at St Vincent’s for people who just want a chat and some company. We see people who suffer with anxiety, depression, isolation and loneliness, which has become more prominent due to the Covid situation. We also host a prayer group with local churches, in particular St Francis of Assisi, where we chat, pray, and offer support to each other.

We have also established a fund to which people on means tested benefits can apply for white goods, which gives people moving into a home the essentials such as a cooker, a fridge, a freezer, beds and cooking equipment. Furthermore, and in line with many other St Vincent’s centres, SVP volunteers run a community shop selling good quality clothing at low prices.

Additionally, St Vincent’s Ely Bridge is a Citizen’s Advice approved third party referrer, which means we can signpost those with complex benefits claims, those in need of debt guidance, legal advice, and individuals who need alcohol and substance advice to the most appropriate support.

It was always in our plans to run parenting classes at St Vincent’s Ely Bridge, but to this we have added ESOL (English as a second language) classes at the centre. We are also running training sessions, including food hygiene, manual handling and a COSHH course. We intend to re-run the courses with Adult Learning Cardiff in February.

St Vincent’s Ely Bridge is also assisting in the Grand Avenues programme to support offenders and their families. The programme supports the whole family and not just the individual and uses a multi-generational approach to provide fellowship and reduce reoffending.

At Christmas, St Vincent’s Ely Bridge was again at the centre of the community as we held a party with music, festive games and of course Father Christmas who read a story and gave each child a present.

When we opened the centre in November, I said that I wanted St Vincent’s Ely Bridge to support generations and compliment and grow the fantastic work of the Catholic Church in this community.

The centre has started on the journey to becoming the heartbeat of the community, and a place which is loving, supportive, and which reflects the local community. It’s a place of encouragement, where people can come and think differently about their lives and begin to put in place the building blocks for a more aspirational future.

God bless everyone who has made this journey possible.

For more information on St Vincent’s Ely Bridge, to volunteer, or to donate to support those in our community in need, please contact Nathan Harding, Centre Manager, St Vincent’s Ely Bridge, Mill Road, Ely, Cardiff, CF5 4AH, telephone 0750 0170764, or email nathanH@svp.org.uk