Cover image: Newly appointed SVP Director of Youth Services Sarah Barber, courtesy of SVP
The St Vincent de Paul Society (SVP) has appointed Sarah Barber as its Director of Youth Services. An experienced youth services professional, Barber joins the SVP as the Society works to solidify its position as a vital grassroots element in care services across the country and offers an outlet for the talents of young people of all ages. Over the past year, the SVP’s role in supporting young people and their families has taken on an added urgency and significance as households struggle in the wake of the pandemic.
Sarah Barber has 30 years’ experience as a teacher, and previously served as Director of the Brentwood Catholic Youth Service. She joined CAFOD in 2013, where she served as the organisation’s first Youth Leadership Coordinator. With CAFOD, she developed the sixth form CAFOD Young Leadership Programme, which now runs in nine dioceses.
Barber’s passion for service was kindled many years before she began her professional career, when she was 15 and a member of the Brentwood Catholic Youth Service.
Later, she undertook voluntary work around the world, which has provided inspiration for her later career. In the 1990s she travelled to Romania as part of the To Romania with Love initiative which provided aid to orphanages, hospitals and schools. In 2009, she travelled to Honduras and Nicaragua as a volunteer with CAFOD, which helped her to understand the impact climate change was already having on real people’s lives.
SVP Chief Executive Elizabeth Palmer is excited at the appointment. “I am delighted to welcome Sarah to the St Vincent De Paul Society,” she says, describing Barber as having “a wealth of experience delivering youth ministry, both at diocesan level and nationally in her most recent role at CAFOD.”
One area in which SVP is counting on Barber is in furthering the SVP Young Vincentian programme, which now has over 600 groups in England and Wales across different age ranges, including Mini Vinnies (7-11 year olds), Youth SVP (11-14 year olds), B-Attitude (14-18 year olds), and svp1833 (18-33 year olds). Additionally, the SVP runs seven summer camps for young people aged 8-14 who are in need of a break because of family problems such as unemployment, illness, bereavement or relationship breakdown.
“The SVP Young Vincentian Programme,” Palmer goes on to say, “gives young people between the ages of five and 33 the opportunity to join the Vincentian family and engage in age-appropriate social action in their school, college, university or parish.”
“Sarah’s knowledge, energy and enthusiasm will ensure the programme goes from strength to strength in the months and years ahead,” Palmer adds.
Barber is looking to the future of a venerable organisation. “The SVP is 200 years old in 2033,” she notes, “I want to use that date as a goal to build greater awareness of the SVP among young people.”
Barber says one of her key objectives is to see “that every school should include some expression of SVP in its community.”
“Ultimately,” Barber says, “I want young people leaving education to know that they can connect with the SVP because it has been a key part of their lives during their time at school.”
Meanwhile, in 2019 her work took her to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory as an accompanier to young adults on a CAFOD gap year. Of her experience in the Middle East, Sarah says: “I’ve never been anywhere before where I’ve experienced such a sense of hopelessness – it was really overwhelming seeing such a poverty of rights. I have a greater appreciation of solidarity having been there, and watching the news currently coming out of the Holy Land makes me desperately sad for everyone involved. I pray for peace and a just outcome for all communities.”
Sarah adds: “The SVP is the hidden treasure of youth ministry, there’s so much going on, but not enough young people are aware of it. The potential is exciting and I’m really looking forward to working with the team to reach out to more of our young people.”
Sarah continues: “Two quotes seem to perfectly capture the scope of my work for the SVP. The first is from St Vincent de Paul, who said, ‘Go to the poor – you will find God,’ and the other is from Blessed Frederic Ozanam, who urges, ‘Do not be afraid of new beginnings, be creative, be inventive.’ Both are appropriate for this new challenge in my life.”