A HUGE crowd gathered together at a local Christmas Carol Service to celebrate the festive season through singing, mince pies and delicious mulled wine.
The lively annual event was organised and hosted by Aberystwyth’s Saint Vincent De Paul’s society (SVP) in Saint Padarn’s Primary School last Friday (Dec 9) in aid of the work of their society in Sudan and South Sudan.
The St Vincent de Paul Society is an international Christian voluntary organisation that is dedicated to tackling poverty and the disadvantaged by providing practical assistance to those in need.
The Society is a lay organisation, which was formed in Paris in 1833 by Blessed Frédéric Ozanam and his companions and has been active in England and Wales since 1844.
The organisation was inspired by the thinking and works of St Vincent de Paul when placed under his Patronage and through justice and charity; it focuses on those who are suffering poverty in any shape or form.
Despite the dreary winter weather, a good number attended, making the most of the festivities and good company.
Starting at 7pm, the seats were filled with eager people ready to sing their hearts out to a wide variety of hymns and carols.
The school hall was draped in Christmas decorations, from tinsel on the walls to the nativity figurines on the stage within close proximity of the advent wreath. A pre-prepared slideshow drew the attention of the audience to the front as it gave us more information about the work of the SVP in Sudan and South Sudan and, most importantly, where our donations would be going.
To begin, President of the SVP in Aberystwyth, Kevin McMulkin, and Secretary Patrick Donavan welcomed those who attended, talking us through the schedule for the evening before a short introduction about the society and its work.
Everyone then prepared their voices as they sang the first hymn, ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel’, which was then followed with a reading conducted by Leontia Slay. Some more of our favourite carols followed, accompanied by two short readings.
The first was read by Patrick Donovan, foretelling the coming of the Messiah and the second read by Madeleine Stocks depicting the appearance of the angels to the shepherds with their good news.
The first half of the service concluded by everyone joining in to sing ‘While Shepherds Watched’ and ‘Away in a Manger’ – festive classics that not only remind us of countless school plays but conjure up images of the true meaning of Christmas.
During the interval, people had the opportunity to feast on a delicious spread by Madeleine Stocks, which included mince pies, sausage rolls, shortbread, mulled wine and mulled juice.
In the second half of the service, the people reconvened to their seats after some time socialising to sing ‘The First Noel’.
With their voices at least temporarily eased by the mulled wine, everyone sat to listen to Patrick Donavan and Anna Kidner recite ‘The Three Kings’ poem by Henry Wadsworth.
Patrick Donavan then went on to introduce the next carol, ‘Faban Bach’ or ‘The Little Baby’ in English. With two fellow parishioners leading the carol from the front of the stage, their harmonious voices reflected the joyful atmosphere in the hall.
The enthusiasm of the crowd continued to increase as they sang ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ and then ‘Angel We Have Heard On High’ before Kevin McMulkin made his way to the front of the hall to reflect on a quote about social justice from the words of Saint Vincent de Paul.
The evening concluded with a passionate rendition of ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ firstly in Latin, then Welsh and finally English.
Of course, no event is complete without a raffle draw and so members of the SVP drew tickets and presented prizes divided by moments of laughter and cheers.
From the testimony of those that attended and the good natured atmosphere engulfing the hall, it seemed that the SVP Carol Service helped to bring the Catholic community even closer together at the start of the Christmas period. This certainly demonstrates how much a society like the SVP can make a difference.
After the carol service, The Herald interviewed Kevin McMulkin and asked him to explain more about what the SVP do: “The SVP have operated in Aberystwyth for over 50 years and during its time, as with the rest of the SVP globally, its main purpose has been to seek out and find those in need. A lot of people ask ‘what does ‘those in need’ mean?’ I think the best way to answer that is to consider the meaning behind our motto, ‘turning concern into action’.
“The SVP is an organisation that was set up to assist wherever and by whatever means it could. This could be in the form of practical help, for example giving food to the homeless, moving furniture for a family or by giving financial help towards someone who is struggling or, indeed, by visiting people on a one-to-one basis, which is the activity that is at the heart of the SVP, particularly in Aberystwyth.
“We are, of course, a Catholic charity, but our help is not restricted to those of the Catholic faith – we try to help anyone we know that’s in need any way we can.
“With an ecumenical approach in mind, we also work with the Jubilee Storehouse Food Bank, based in St Anne’s Penparcau, to provide food donation points within the parish. We then collect the food from our parishioners and deliver it to the food bank.
“In recent years, we have expanded our activities and have begun to organise fundraising events, such as the Carol Service, to raise money for the work of the society both here and abroad and also, perhaps just as importantly, to bring people together in a spirit of friendship.”
We then asked Kevin about the organisation and the planning that went into putting on the Carol Service this year, in addition to the Sudan appeal. He responded by explaining: “As you might expect, a lot of work goes into preparing for the Carol Service. We have to find an organist, book the venue and advertise the event at least a month in advance.
“Setting a date can be problematic enough as there are so many events going on at this time of year. As a result, it is really important to stand out so that as many people as possible will turn up on the night and a good amount of money can be raised for this worthy cause.
“Obviously we advertise within the parish, in the parish newsletter and by handing out posters, but the information can get lost in the pre- Christmas rush.
“As this is the third annual SVP Carol Service, as you would expect by now, we have ironed out most of the organisational problems as many things can be repeated. However, the trouble then is keeping it fresh, fun and attractive to the public so that we can raise money for our cause.”
On the reasons why the SVP are raising the money for Sudan, Kevin stated: “Our aim is to raise money for the work of the SVP in Sudan and South Sudan. Sudan has had a long history of conflict since its creation (and later partition) and the SVP estimate internal conflicts have been responsible for the deaths of around two million people and the displacement of over twice that.
“As you can expect, a lot of people are in need and so the SVP there are stretched thin. The SVP in Sudan do what we do here; they try to help those in need, but their work is much more difficult and on a much larger scale, so that is where we come in.
“As part of a program known as SVP Twinnage, our SVP conference in Aberystwyth is twinned with an SVP conference in Sudan/South Sudan and, as a result, each year we raise money via our Carol Service to assist them in continuing their good work. From the past two Carol Services, we have been able to raise over £1,000 for our twinned SVP conference.”
Kevin went on to talk about how he feels the event has been beneficial in bringing the community together: “I think a Carol Service is always something that brings the community together. By its nature, everyone has a role to play in the event. Not just the organisers, but the ordinary people there because without them, there would be no singing and no atmosphere.
“I think if people feel part of something, they will enjoy it more and are increasingly likely to get to know others there. My hope is that on some level it brought our parish community closer together.”
Expressing his hopes for the Carol Service next year, Kevin said: “I think next year we would like to have more people attend, not just Catholic parishioners but also more people from the town because it is an enjoyable event and they should be able to experience it with us.
“I think next year we should consider having it earlier, perhaps at the end of November, to miss the ‘Christmas event rush’, so to speak.”
Concluding the interview, Kevin paid tribute to a member of the society who was sorely missed during the event: “This year’s Carol Service was more solemn than the last as it was the first one without one of our longest serving member, Winnie Livermore.
“She was a member of the SVP in Aberystwyth for over 45 years and embodied what the SVP stood for as she was so generous with her time to care for those most in need.”
Kevin finally added: “She was the fun and good spirit that kept us all together, making this event and others like it even more enjoyable.”
Local Businesses help raise astonishing £10,000 for Cardio-Respiratory Ward at Bronglais Hospital
THE ORGANISERS of the 2021 Aberystwyth Businesspersons’ Lunch have donated the £10,000 proceeds to the Cardio-Respiratory Ward at Bronglais Hospital.
Consultant Cardiologist Dr Donogh McKeogh; Aled and Rose Rowlands;
John Davies’ widow Ann; Frank Bridle; John’s daughter and son, Angharad
and Rhodri; and Iestyn Leyshon
The lunch last December was in memory of well-known local businessman, jeweller and musician John Davies, who had helped organise the annual lunch for many years but sadly passed away just a few months before.
“John was such a lovely man, a pillar of the town and so well thought of, that we decided it was fitting that the lunch should be in his memory and that the proceeds should go to the cardiac unit where he had been treated for so many years,” said Aled Rowlands, who organised the lunch along with Frank Bridle, Layla Mangan, Gary Pemberthy, Huw Bates and Iestyn Leyshon.
“It was a very successful day, with nearly 200 people enjoying a lunch, comedian, band, auction and raffle. It was a fitting tribute to John who was such a big part of the town.”
John Davies joined his parents’ business at T J Davies at the age of 16 where he worked for 64 years after leaving Llandaff Cathedral School. He passed away in August 2021, at the age of 80.
John’s wife Ann and children Angharad and Rhodri said: “We were delighted at the generous amount that was raised in his memory at the Businesspersons Christmas lunch.
“Charity work was important to John, through his membership of the Lions Club and it is fitting that the money raised went to a department where he personally received such care and attention from Dr McKeogh and his team.
“John will be remembered not only as a businessman but also as a keen and talented trumpeter, playing with Aberystwyth Town Band, Aber Jazz and Philomusica, to name but a few, as well as playing carols with the Town Band every Christmas Day around Bronglais Hospital wards and care homes in the town.”
Pictured at the cheque presentation at Bronglais Hospital are (from left) Consultant Cardiologist Dr Donogh McKeogh; Aled and Rose Rowlands; John Davies’ widow Ann; Frank Bridle; John’s daughter and son, Angharad and Rhodri; and Iestyn Leyshon.
Wales stands firm in support for Ukraine
IN THE latest update on the Ukraine crisis, Wales’s Minister for Social Justice Jane Hutt thanked all those households across Wales who have come forward to offer their homes to Ukrainians fleeing the War and encouraged more households to provide this vital support.
APPEAL FOR MORE HOST FAMILIES
The Minister for Social Justice said: “I’m delighted to say that over 5,650 people from Ukraine, sponsored by the Welsh Government and Welsh households, have already arrived in the UK.
“More than 8,200 visas have now been issued to people from Ukraine who have sponsors in Wales, so we expect the number of arrivals to continue to grow in the coming weeks.
“Thousands of Welsh households sponsored Ukrainians to arrive in Wales and committed to hosting them for at least six months.
“As we move into the autumn, we approach the end of that initial period.
“We hope hosts and Ukrainians will agree to extend many of those placements, but we need additional hosts to support those who cannot continue living where they are.
“To ensure a warm welcome to Wales, I’m inviting households across Wales to come forward and open their homes to welcome those seeking sanctuary.
“We’re immensely thankful to all those across Wales acting as hosts to Ukrainians, but more households must come forward.
“I completely understand that there are those who want to help but may not have the resources to do so, given the circumstances we’re all facing with the cost-of-living crisis.”
WALES WILL STEP UP TO THE PLATE
Jane Hutt continued: “What we all know, and has been proven countless times, is that the people of Wales are one of the most generous across the globe, and I’m sure we will step up to the plate once again.
“The idea of hosting can be daunting. That’s why we have funded Housing Justice Cymru to provide a Host Support service which includes expert and reliable information, training, advice, and guidance for people hosting, or those considering hosting, Ukrainians in Wales.
“More information on sessions and training can be found on the Housing Justice Cymru website. We also publish regularly updated guidance for hosts and sponsors at gov. wales/ukraine.
“We still need many more households to consider whether they could provide a home for those in need. This would normally be a commitment to hosting for 6 to 12 months.
“If anyone is considering this, we encourage them to register their interest at gov.wales/offerhome, and to attend one of the ‘Introduction to Hosting’ sessions, facilitated by Housing Justice Cymru. You won’t need to continue the process if you decide it is not for you.
“We have also partnered with Airbnb.org to ensure very short-term emergency placements can be provided to prevent homelessness.
“If you cannot host for more than 6 months but you could offer your property for up to 30 days at a time, you may also be able to contribute. Visit gov.wales/offerhome and follow the link to the Airbnb.org platform.”
Finally, the Minister stated: “We will continue to communicate with those who host Ukrainians, with updated guidance and information to support the valuable role you are undertaking.
“To all those that are already hosting and to those that are considering hosting, thank you, we owe you all a huge debt of gratitude.”
WESTMINSTER MUST BACK HOSTS
DURING COST-OF-LIVING CRISIS
Conservative MS Mark Isherwood raised how the cost-of-living crisis affects Ukrainian refugees.
Where families had taken in those fleeing Russian aggression, he noted a risk of sponsorships not continuing beyond six months because the hosts cannot afford the rise in fuel costs.
He asked the Minister what discussions she’d had with the UK Government about increasing the £350 contribution to households who’d taken in Ukrainian refugees.
The Minister agreed with Mark Isherwood that ending a specific ministerial post dealing with refugees was regrettable.
She noted a lack of information from the UK Government over the summer months and since Liz Truss replaced Boris Johnson as head of the Conservative Government.
Ms Hutt said: “We asked for an increase at least to £500, or up again, doubling to £700 per month. An urgent decision is needed regarding this as they reach the end of their six-month period.
“That period is underway, so we’re writing to all hosts to see if they will continue.”
UK GOVERNMENT URGED
TO PICK UP THE PHONE
The Minister thanked Mark Isherwood for introducing her to a charity offering support in North Wales, Link, and hoped that he and his colleagues would bring pressure to bear on their Westminster colleagues to ensure those in need from Ukraine and those in Wales helping them received support.
She added: “I look forward perhaps that we might have some telephone calls from the Prime Minister and other Ministers to us in Government. We must engage with them and follow this through.
“There is a huge job of work to be done here. We’re taking responsibility in the way I’ve outlined, funding our welcome centres and paying thank-you payments to hosts if they support a family who initially arrived in Wales under the Ukraine family scheme.
“That’s not happening in England. The commitment that we’re making is considerable.
“I hope everyone will join us today, saying that we need to press for those answers in terms of financial support.”
THE THREAT OF HOMELESSNESS
Sioned Williams of Plaid Cymru raised the spectre of Ukrainian refugees becoming homeless in Wales due to a lack of financial support and the end of existing hosting and housing placements.
The Minister praised the work of local authorities across Wales supporting refugees.
She said: “There are very imaginative programmes. That includes a whole range of issues like repurposing empty buildings.
“Local authorities are really coming up with a whole range of ways in which we can support people, perhaps, from a welcome centre, or a host family, into that intermediate accommodation, and then on to other longer-term accommodation.”
Pembrokeshire currently houses around 200 Ukrainian refugees, with the demand for assistance outstripping the availability of suitable accommodation.
NOT ONE PENNY FROM WESTMINSTER
TO SUPPORT FAMILIES FLEEING WAR
Responding to a question from Mabon ap Gwynfor about problems housing family groups, Jane Hutt hit out at the lack of support from the UK Government and how it’s u-turned on a commitment to help families.
“The UK Government has never given a penny towards the family scheme.
“The former Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, in one of his last PMQs, actually said that he thought the Ukraine family scheme should get the same funding and support as the Homes for Ukraine scheme. It’s never happened.
“We have provided thank-you payments to people who are hosting Ukrainian families. It’s all Welsh Government money; it’s not UK Government, because they don’t provide a penny. And also, the British Red Cross—£246,000—who are actually supporting Ukrainian families who are hosting family members under the Ukrainian family scheme.”
On Wednesday, September 28, Eluned Morgan, Wales’s Health Minister, announced the continuation of free healthcare in Wales to Ukrainian residents displaced by the ongoing conflict.
The exemption will continue to apply unless there’s a significant change in circumstances in Ukraine.
Prince and Princess of Wales to visit Wales
THE PRINCE and Princess of Wales have planned a trip to Wales to visit a variety of communities across the nation and learn about the work of key charitable organisations.
The Prince and Princess have a deep affection for Wales, having made their first family home in Anglesey, and have thoroughly enjoyed their previous visits and the warmth and kindness shown by the Welsh people.
Their Royal Highnesses are looking forward to spending more time in Wales over the next few years, they hope to strengthen their relationship with communities in all parts of Wales.
During their first engagement, Their Royal Highnesses will visit the RNLI Holyhead Lifeboat Station, where they will meet crew, volunteers and some people who have been supported by their local unit.
Holyhead is one of the three oldest lifeboat stations on the Welsh coast and has a remarkable history of bravery, having received 70 awards for gallantry.
Their Royal Highnesses will then take a short walk to the Holyhead Marine and Cafe Bar, where they will meet local people, including representatives of small businesses and organisations, including the Coastguard and Sea Cadets.
In their second engagement, the Prince and Princess of Wales are expected to visit Swansea.
Their Royal Highnesses will visit St Thomas Church, a re-developed church in Swansea which supports people in the local area and across the City and County of Swansea.
Over the last two years the church has been transformed into a thriving community hub and is home to a vast array of services, including:
- A foodbank which supports over 200 people per week
- Swansea Baby Basics which distributes essential items for vulnerable mothers across the city, such as toiletries and clothes
- Facilities for the homeless including food, showers and toilets
- A not-for-profit cafe and community training kitchen
- A surplus food distribution network which collects food from supermarkets at the end of each day and distributes it from the church to prevent food waste and to help end food poverty
As part of their visit, Their Royal Highnesses will meet those volunteering at the church across different initiatives including Baby Basics and the foodbank. Their Royal Highnesses will also spend some time meeting members of the public gathered outside the church.
The Princess of Wales has previously worked with Baby Banks and the in summer of 2020 brought together 19 British brands and retailers to donate over 10,000 new items to more than 40 baby banks nationwide, operated by Baby Basics, Little Village and AberNecessities.
Her Royal Highness has visited a number of baby banks across the UK, including in London, Sheffield and West Norfolk where she has spent time speaking with families about their experiences of using their local baby bank services, as well as helping unload donations.
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