“Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course” – William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Act III, Scene 1
As the faint flame of victory against the novel coronavirus and the disease it causes – Covid-19 – is fanned by growing acceptance of the medical efficacy of vaccines, a course through the economic detritus left in the wake of the pandemic is gradually presenting itself.
The headlines, however, remain full of retail collapse, unimaginable national debt and the residual strain on the NHS and care services. We must not forget those left homeless, fatally indebted, bereaved, isolated or suffering the agony of mental health problems.
As SVP did in the years before Covid and all throughout the pandemic – as we shall, until poverty, loneliness and inequality become words from a distant past – SVP supports forgotten victims around the globe. The SVP witnesses the effects of poverty every day. Our members and volunteers address the problem at grassroots level, offering understanding and friendship, and practical support through food parcels, everyday essentials and furniture.
Poverty has become an uncomfortable truth for many of us during 2020, a malign companion we are unable to shake off. Once in its grasp, poverty is a vicious adversary. Without help, it permeates every aspect of your life, from your physical well-being to your mental health. Your friendships often fall apart and your hopes for the future fade.
Hundreds of thousands of households have fallen into poverty through loss of employment, indebtedness or relationship break-up. This is the bitter inheritance we must continue to fight long after the vaccine has been circulated and administered, otherwise we risk creating a forgotten, impoverished post-Covid generation.
It may seem a trivial gesture, but the friendship offered by a stranger, by someone who cares because you need to hear words of support and understanding, often provides a route to recovery. It’s a powerful act of unity.
As with all the problems affecting our most vulnerable brothers and sisters, we must embrace ‘sour adversity’, take an unflinching look, bear witness with honesty to the core of the problem and raise our voices in protest. Homelessness is solvable, but its remedy is buried in the complex relationship between education, employment opportunities, financial resources, and taking ownership of the problem.
In the meantime, we must not ignore the situation, which is not the natural by-product of the country’s pursuit of prosperity, but a sign of weaknesses in our society.
SVP members operate soup runs, offer support and understanding, and distribute ‘Vinnie Packs’ containing a thermal hat, two pairs of thermal socks, thermal gloves, toothpaste, toothbrush, wet wipes, a pen, a Pavement magazine and an information sheet – essential items collectively costing a mere £3.50. Until the net through which people fall into rough sleeping closes, these small kindnesses make a world of difference to those whose voices are seldom heard.
The pandemic has exacerbated another ‘sour adversity’: the epidemic of loneliness – which we must face and outface together, if we are ever to overcome this debilitating side effect of contemporary life. How can we ignore loneliness in a world where communication is ubiquitous?
For many lonely people, taking the first step out of their solitary world is the most daunting. Fears of being a burden, the anxiety of ‘opening up’ to a stranger, and the worry that your troubles are insignificant can all prevent taking that initial step. SVP members and volunteers are driven by a desire to help anyone in need, no matter who they are, or what problems they are experiencing.
The SVP’s mission is to seek and find those in need, to help them in a spirit of justice according to our values: Christ-centred, compassionate, respectful, generous, responsive, accountable and confidential.
Tackling loneliness requires bravery and community; bravery on the part of those who most acutely feel the solitude of loneliness, and community, because we cannot fight this alone. SVP members and volunteers reach out to the lonely, befriend them, talk, understand, and all without judgement. We provide opportunities for conversation either by phone, email or by letter. As a community, we should all strive to be ‘good neighbours’.
As 2020 ends, it would be easy to consign it to the past as a year to forget, but let’s embrace the ‘sour adversity’ and use it to become a better community in 2021 and beyond. This is our chance to affect change for a fairer and more equitable world.
For more information or to donate to the SVP’s Rise to the Challenge campaign, go to www.svp.org.uk/rise