The Society is a lay organisation initially formed in Paris in 1833 by Frederic Ozanam and his companions, and active in England & Wales since 1844. Placed under the Patronage of St Vincent de Paul, it is inspired by his thinking and works. It seeks, in the spirit of justice and charity, to help those who are suffering poverty in whatever form.
The work of the SVP falls into two main areas: membership activity and Special Works.
The main work of the volunteer members is to befriend and assist individuals and families in need on a person-to-person basis, through visits to domestic residences, care homes, hospitals, prisons and other institutions. In England & Wales , around 10,000 volunteer members in 1,100 mainly parish-based groups make more than half a million visits each year to vulnerable people in their communities.
In addition to member visits, the Society also operates a number of "Special Works", which seek to serve people in a wider area or give more specialised help in a certain aspect of the work. These Special Works currently include holiday schemes, children's summer camps, furniture stores, community shops, support centres, soup runs, residential care, deaf clubs, debt counselling, community transport and asylum care. Direct support and financial assistance is also provided to people in need overseas through its international network of volunteers and the SVP Disaster Fund.
Founded by students in 1833, the SVP today runs an active programme of youth development in parishes, schools and universities.