There was a wonderful atmosphere at last night's sell-out concert in Farm Street church, Mayfair, raising much-needed funds for the St Vincent de Paul Society's Vinnie Pack project for the homeless.
TV star and baritone Alexander Armstrong compered the evening with great warmth, and sang, together with lyric soprano Miranda Heldt. Actor Alexander MacQueen read some moving personal accounts from homeless people, collected by Tamsen Courtenay.
The show began with a powerful performance from the Choir With No Name, conducted by Sam Chaplin. This ensemble of fine singers who are or have been homeless themselves, sang 'This is Me' followed by the Isley Brothers 'Harvest for the World' - that got everyone clapping - and concluded with their keynote song: 'Love is in the Air'. See them if you get the chance. They are excellent.
Alexander Armstrong - who will be attempting to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in aid of Comic Relief shortly - then explained what Vinnie Packs are. The SVP has already assembled and distributed around 12,000 of them throughout England and Wales this winter. Each one effectively is a survival kit for anyone sleeping rough. They contain a thermal hat, gloves, two pairs of socks, wet wipes, toothpaste, toothbrush, pen and information sheet. But, Alexander said: " what you can't see is that they also contain - a great deal of love. By being here this evening you are contributing to that."
During the evening there were some beautiful folk songs from Miranda Heldt, accompanied by harpist Judy Brown. Alexander Armstrong sang Britten's arrangements of O Waley Waley and the Ash Grove - accompanied by pianist Jenny Vizaret. Miranda Heldt gave a stunning unaccompanied performance of the folk song 'The Singer'.
In a brief talk, Vinnie Pack Coordinator Siobhan Garibaldi described how the Vinnie Pack started and are put together and distributed - entirely by volunteers. "We have around 80 groups of members (about 800 volunteers in all) reaching out to the vulnerable in their local communities throughout the Diocese of Westminster dealing with a plethora of issues from debt, asylum, a lack of food, children with no beds to sleep on and a vast number of older people who are wracked by loneliness and several groups specifically reach out to the homeless. Our members here at Farm Street are literally out on their rounds as I speak in the area around the city centre and are handing out Vinnie Packs."
She said: "It's particularly fitting that we're in this beautiful church this evening as Timothy Schmaltz's statue of the Homeless Jesus was installed here recently... The biggest thanks though must go to all members of the Choir With No Name whose courage to stand up here and sing despite everything they go through is just awe inspiring."
Alexander Armstrong then sang the very funny 'Tulip Time in Sing Sing' by PG Woodhouse - who he explained, besides his comic novels, wrote many popular songs - alongside Jerome Kerne and Gershwin. The show concluded with a charming duet from the two singers: A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square - and a word of thanks from parish priest Fr Dominic Robinson SJ - before a reception in the parish hall.
See more pictures on ICN's Facebook page.
If you weren't able to get to the concert and would like to make a donation, visit:
Donations can be also be sent by post to: Vinnie Packs, PO Box 72264, London SW1P 9EZ with cheques made out to SVP.
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