It has been a year like no other.

The 2019/20 financial year brought new emergencies to bear on a state already consumed by a relentless drought. We witnessed the worst bushfires in NSW history, which had barely passed before the coronavirus pandemic reached Australian shores.

This year has been turbulent, yet the Society’s support for vulnerable people has remained constant and, in some cases, has been the only thing keeping them afloat.

We would like to open this annual report with a heartfelt message of thanks to the more than 15,000 members, volunteers and employees who went above and beyond in 2019/20 in their service to the people we assist.

It has been a difficult year, and some of you will be feeling exhausted; maybe even demoralised. Please know that your commitment and compassion are raising the morale of others at a time when it is needed more than ever. Beyond the food, clothing, shelter, financial assistance, healthcare, and the many other ways you help, you offer something that is truly priceless: hope.

Thank you.

A stronger strategy for the future – and for right now

The 2019/20 financial year was a time of significant change at the Society NSW, even before the bushfire and COVID-19 crises unfolded. We undertook a significant restructure and started the implementation of the Strategic Plan 2020-2022, our roadmap to ensure we are a future ready and relevant organisation that has the people we serve at its centre, robust infrastructure and strong governance.

The new organisational structure, built around the value of One Society, brings together the many people, programs and locations that make up the Society, and unites us in pursuit of our shared mission to shape a more just and compassionate society.

We undertook significant work to improve our governance culture by developing a three-year Governance Plan, revising the Society’s constitution, developing Board and committee charters, and developing a Risk Management Policy and Framework.

Our members and volunteers are the lifeblood of the Society and we now have a stronger focus on supporting them under the improved organisational structure. The new Members, Volunteers and Regional Operations directorate works together with our people to support their spirituality, growth, and impact.

This plan is equipping us to adapt to changes in our sector as well as the broader community, ensuring that the Society will always be there to provide meaningful support for people experiencing poverty and disadvantage.

Rallying behind bushfire-affected communities

The Society was at the forefront of the response to the Black Summer bushfire crisis, and our new structure allowed our members and employees to respond quickly on the ground with the right infrastructure and resources needed.

From the first fires in northern NSW in September 2019, our members were there to help their local communities. In evacuation and recovery centres, at outreach events, in Society Conferences, and remotely over the phone and the internet, they organised access to emergency financial assistance, food, clothing, household items, crisis accommodation, and emotional support for those who experienced the brunt of the bushfires. The contribution of our volunteer members was made even more remarkable by the fact that many of them suffered the impacts of the fires themselves.

In 2019/20, the Society NSW provided $5.6 million in emergency relief funds to support 4,285 households to end of June 2020, with further funds spent on recovery programs in the 2020/21 financial year.

Of course, this crucial support would not have been possible without the generosity of our donors. The Vinnies Bushfire Appeal was the most successful fundraising appeal in our organisation’s history, and the level of support given by community members, businesses and philanthropists is greatly appreciated. At a time of such distress and despair, it made all the difference to know that when the going gets tough, the Australian community bands together in support. We extend our sincere thanks to everyone who contributed to the Vinnies Bushfire Appeal.

Responding to COVID-19

The bushfires were followed by an emergency entirely unforeseen: the first global pandemic in a century. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic required a resource-intensive response to ensure the health and safety of our members, volunteers and employees and the people we serve. We had to respond to the effective management of our workforce, including working from home arrangements, the flexible operation of our retail and commercial enterprise network, and continuity of services where safe to do so.

Continuing to assist the people we serve was of utmost importance. We know that our services are essential to so many Australians doing it tough; food, shelter, clothing, financial assistance, healthcare, domestic violence support, disability services, and drug and alcohol addiction programs are critical to people’s wellbeing.

We are immensely proud to report that most Society services did remain open, with stringent health and safety precautions in place. We worked with the NSW Government and hotels to find safe, alternative accommodation for some of the people we assist in our homelessness services, helping to reduce capacity on-site and implement physical distancing. Meanwhile, we were able to move some face-to-face services to online or phone-based models, with a focus on keeping people connected and combatting isolation during COVID-19.

The pandemic had significant financial impact on the Society, exacerbating the urgency of addressing our underlying financial challenge. Key factors contributing to the financial challenge included the closure of our shops from March to May 2020 and the cancellation of key fundraising events.

The Strategic Plan 2020-2022 and enabling structure were designed to empower us in being agile and responsive for the future. Who could have known how quickly the future would arrive?

A voice for the voiceless

One of our greatest strengths at the Society is our strong voice and respected public advocacy. During COVID-19, we spoke out on behalf of those who risked being left behind by governments’ response, including migrants on temporary visas, international students, refugees, and people seeking asylum.

We also continued our advocacy in support of raising the rate of Newstart/JobSeeker Payment and welcomed the temporary increase to this safety net. We continue to advocate for a permanent increase that will ensure everyone in Australia can live above the poverty line.

In 2019, we launched the ‘Build Homes, Build Hope’ campaign, a Society movement driven by members calling for more social housing in NSW. Our petition urging the NSW Government to provide 5,000 additional social housing properties per year over the next decade has attracted 10,000 signatures so far – an impressive tally, considering how the coronavirus has inhibited our members’ ability to collect signatures in public.

Social and affordable housing

The Society has invested significantly in social housing, by developing social and affordable housing units which were fair valued at $169 million as at 30 June 2020. Additional Units fair valued at $58 million were completed post year end, bringing the total fair value of the investments to $227 million. These units are tenanted through the NSW Governments social and affordable housing fund, with which we are contracted to provide a total of 502 homes once construction is completed in 2020/21

We are delighted to be able to provide safe, modern, and comfortable homes for 450 people in NSW. This is an area of significant focus for us and reflects our commitment to the ‘housing first’ model of social services: the belief that a stable home is the first step to building a better life.

Thank you

The work of the St Vincent de Paul Society NSW is truly a team effort, made possible not only by our members, volunteers and staff, but also by the donors, partners and supporters who share our conviction that a fairer society is possible. We appreciate your support always, but especially during this difficult year.

To everyone who plays their part in the Society, we thank you.

John McKendry – Chairman

Jack de Groot – CEO