A group of children in school uniform and two adults standing and sitting in front of a Mini Vinnies banner in a school hall and smiling at the camera.
Mini Vinnies in England: The Australian Connection

Mini Vinnies in England: The Australian Connection

The Record
13/03/2024 12:00 PM

Some Mini Vinnies schools in Australia have established a relationship with schools in England by way of a pen pal scheme.

BY KEVIN SLATTERY Hawthorn Conference, Melbourne

In 2008 while visiting England, I travelled up to Runcorn in the north, the place from where Fr Gerald Ward sailed to Australia in 1849 in response to an appeal by Bishop Goold to booster priestly stocks in the fledgling Melbourne town. Fr Ward later founded the first Australian conference of St Vincent de Paul, in St Francis Church, in 1854.

Runcorn in 2008 hosted a vibrant SVDP conference under the dynamic leadership of president Marjorie Lightfoot. During a delightful lunch with conference members, I was asked to give an overview of what was happening in Australia.

In passing, I mentioned the growing development of the Mini Vinnies movement. Marjorie picked this up as it was a concept unknown in the UK. She asked me to send further information on my return home. This I did, gathering up resources from various Australian groups and mailing them to Marjorie.

Fired up, Marjorie then persuaded all those necessary, including the National Council of England and Wales to run a 12-month pilot programme on Mini Vinnies in the primary schools in her area. The result was a resounding success – the children loved it, the schools loved it – everybody loved it.

The children loved it because it was an active way of putting their faith into action, enabling them to see how they could make a difference by being a member of this huge Vincentian family. The schools loved it because it covered aspects of the curriculum such as Community Cohesion, and most importantly Catholic Social Teaching, putting their faith into action.

The SVDP National Office then decided the programme should be rolled out throughout England and Wales and eventually provided staff at National Office to be responsible for it.

In May 2010 the first Catholic primary school to commission a group of Mini Vinnies was St Edward’s in Runcorn, the parish from which Fr Gerald Ward left to begin his ministry in Melbourne in 1849.

In 2023 there are over 400 Catholic primary schools in England and Wales running Mini Vinnies programmes. In Marjorie Lightfoot’s diocese, attention has now turned to implementing a Youth SVDP programme, so that Mini Vinnies are able to continue their Vincentian journey when they progress to secondary school.

Some Mini Vinnies schools in Australia have established a relationship with schools in England by way of a pen pal scheme. Marjorie Lightfoot is keen to further develop this relationship with interested Australian schools. She may be contacted on marj.lightfoot80@gmail.com 

Read the rest of the Autumn edition of The Record

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