Italians have been coming to live in Britain in significant numbers for about two hundred years, and the greater part of them have come to London. Over the years, thousands have settled in the streets of Clerkenwell and Farringdon, an area still known today as “Little Italy”. From Giuseppe Mazzini to Fabio Capello, and an army of men and women, cooks and craftsmen, labourers and lawyers, businessmen and bus drivers besides, Italians in London have arrived and made their mark on the life and history of this country and its capital city.
But as well as offering fantastic opportunities, London can be a tough city, and not every member of these successive waves of immigration has been a top chef or a famous footballer. Many Italians, particularly youngsters, find it hard to settle or even survive in this huge, frantic and often unfriendly metropolis. The St Peter’s Project, based at the Italian church of that name in London, is there to help them.
Who we are and what we do
Saint Peter’s Project Italian Church in London Fr. Carmelo di Giovanni, Parish Priest of St. Peter’s Italian Church in Clerkenwell has been engaged in this mission to the wider Italian community since the early 1970’s. The Project was formally registered as a charity in 2001. Today, the St Peter’s Project is a group of people working with Italians or members of our Italian community in London who need help.
We work in particular with individuals who:
- have ongoing drug or alcohol related problems
- have mental or serious physical health problems
- are in some way marginalised from society (eg the homeless, unemployed, ex-prisoners, recovering drug addicts)
The help we can offer includes:
- drug-related counselling and support,
- financial assistance to meet short-term needs
- help in kind (food parcels and second-hand clothes)
- longer-term financial support for drug rehabilitation programmes
- friendship and spiritual support
Beyond assisting in urgent cases of short-term need, SPP’s aim is to help people to support themselves, and assist their family life and family cohesion. At its core is a recognition that as the Italian Parish of London, our community includes all Italians, not just those who come to Church on Sunday. We aim to help Italians of all faiths, and of no faith at all.
Thursday evening “drop in sessions”
The focal point of the Project is the Thursday evening “drop in sessions” we run at the Holy Cross Centre near King’s Cross. This is an opportunity for Italians in London to meet over a hot meal cooked by our volunteers in a friendly, Italian environment – a few hours of friendship and warmth off the streets. As well as the meal, there are Italian TV and newspapers, access to professional advice and counselling, help with English, and an opportunity for prayer and meditation. In a nutshell, the Thursday evening acts as a point of reference for support for vulnerable members of the Italian community in London.
Supporting Italians in Prison
Saint Peter’s Project Italian Church in London There is a surprisingly, and worryingly, large number of Italians in Prisons in London and across the UK. Many are inside for petty, drug-related crimes. Many are young men, whose life inside is often further complicated by a poor grasp of English. Working with individuals at the Italian Consulate, Fr. Carmelo and Fr. Richard keep in contact with the young and not so young Italians in prison in London, and Carmelo celebrates a regular Mass in prison. As well as giving some financial assistance, we help them stay in touch with their families and friends back in Italy. Most of all, the presence of Carmelo and Richard is a source of great moral support and encouragement for them
Our work in 2009 in numbers
In simple numbers, 2009 was a typical year for the St. Peter’s Project. A total of 180 individuals came to the Thursday evenings sessions, where we served about 1,850 meals over the year.
The average number of guests coming each Thursday evening was 34, slightly down on 2008.
Fr Carmelo, supported by Fr Richard visited or was in touch with over 100 Italians in prison in London
In the course of the year we distributed approximately £1,000 in alms, to help people with a variety of needs
- flights back to Italy to see family
- housing, removals and utility bills
- clothing expenses
- legal fees
We also distributed about 400 small food parcels from the Church.
Organisation of the St. Peter’s Project
SPP is run by a committee of Trustees, headed by Fr. Carmelo, with Michael Coffey acting as day to day manager of SPP. Alongside them is a network of volunteers. Chief among our volunteers is the much-loved and ever-active Onorina di Cristofaro, who organises and cooks the meal on Thursday night with other ladies of the Parish, and who manages alms giving from the Church itself. She is truly the beating heart of the project
We are also fortunate to have back-up from the Association of Christian Italian workers (ACLI), which is located next to the Church in Clerkenwell, where Lucia Bugitti acts as a valuable point of contact and advice. The SPP Annual Report and Accounts are prepared by Giuseppe Teoli, supported by the Church secretary, Maria Ferri.
Inevitably, all this activity costs money. SPP’s internal administrative costs are at a bare minimum – just a share of the Church’s utility bills for the Project office, and no-one working for SPP is paid. However, running the Thursday sessions, food and alms all add up to costs of several thousand pounds a year.
We receive no funding from the Italian Government, and all our expenses are met from the generosity and hard work of private individuals and a small group of Italian firms based in the city. As well as our friends in London, we have a network of supporters in Italy in the shape of “Gli Amici di St Peter’s Project”, who raise funds and awareness of our work in Italy.
In the UK we are fortunate to have the warm support of the Italian Ambassador, and a number of private individuals. The latter have organised valuable and enjoyable fundraising events for us in London over the years.
We are particularly grateful to Davide Serra, of Algebris Partners, who organised a very successful fundraising dinner at the Embassy in late 2008.
Become a Volunteer
Many of the members of SPP are young, professional Italians who are in London for just a few years, sometimes even less – so we always need new volunteers!
New people also bring new ideas for expanding our services, something we are eager to do as the nature and needs of the Italian community in London evolve.
Donate to SPP
The one thing we can never have enough of, however, is financial support! Any donation you could make would be extremely valuable, and deeply appreciated.
We are particularly interested in expanding our group of Corporate sponsors in the UK. If your firm would be interested in becoming a corporate sponsor of the St. Peter’s Project, we would be very pleased to meet with you and discuss in more detail the aims of the project and how we could work together. If any of the above areas interest you, please contact us.
Please contact the Parish Office to view the latest financial accounts of the St. Peter’s Project.
The last words belong to the Lord himself, for his words have been for over thirty years the inspiration for Carmelo and those around him:
“When I was hungry, you gave me food, when I was thirsty you gave me to drink; When I was a stranger you took me in, when I was a naked you clothed me, when I was sick and in prison you visited me…”
(Matthew, 52, vv 35-36)