Nothing nourishes the soul and body better than blended vegetables and examples of brilliant things, being done by brilliant people to change the communities they live in, says soup-loving Dotty Winters.
I come from a long line of soup lovers. It is a family joke that there is (almost) nothing we won’t turn into soup. I’ve also been involved in community projects and local regeneration throughout my professional career (and before that, as a Brownie). So, a few years ago, when I started to hear whispers of a global movement which combined soup and community benefits I was sold.
The concept of the Soup movement is simple. People attend an event and pay a small amount (in the UK, often £5) and are given a bowl of soup to eat. During the event local community groups or charities present what they are doing and what their plans are. A vote is held and the winning group leave with the proceeds of the night to pursue their idea or sustain their projects.
Widely credited as having started in Detroit, you can now find Soup meetings in town and cities round the world. The original model was simple: four pitches by four community entrepreneurs, lasting up to four minutes each. Then everyone eats and discusses the ideas, before voting by ballot.
There is no central Soup organisation, so anyone who likes the idea can replicate it in their community. The events I’ve attended have all been friendly, low key, entertaining and super-inspiring. Nothing nourishes the soul and body better than blended vegetables and examples of brilliant things, being done by brilliant people to change the communities they live in.
While the outline of the concept is the same wherever Soup happens, there are lots of variations. Some groups don’t even eat soup (I do NOT approve of this idea), sometimes only registered charities or social enterprises can take part, and others are for anyone with an idea.
Some groups have a preference for new ideas and start-ups, whereas others focus on sustaining existing ideas or groups. Whatever the ingredients, the stock is the same: microfinance from communities to develop or grow great ideas in their community.
Kathryn Welch, founder of Stirling Soup tells me about their events. “We definitely try to make it very inclusive,” she says, “I didn’t want to do a church hall venue – we had a bar at the first one, and will again at the next. We also had a community choir at the last one which was ridiculously heart-warming. It’s not ‘worthy’ feeling; I want people to have a great time. People come because they want to do nice stuff.”
“The event itself is only half the story,” Welch adds. “People meet, people discover connections between projects, people hook up and think about how to do things differently here. We’ve had two events so far and already six new partnerships have formed and two new services have launched in Stirling.”
Stirling Citizens for Sanctuary helps refugees settle in Stirling. Welch says, “We always read in the papers that this is such a divisive issue, but people responded so positively. Soup was the first time they had applied for, or got, any funding, but it gave them the confidence to apply for other funding. People really got behind it.”
Sometimes it’s not even about the funding. Contact the Elderly attended an event and didn’t win, Welch explains, but got enough new volunteers on the night to start a whole new round of their befriending tea parties for a year.
I ask Welch why Soup works so well. “There isn’t that much which is this small-scale and this local,” she explains. “People ask if the council fund it because they are surprised how small and simple it is. It’s run from a box, no funding, no bank account. It’s as simple as it looks.”
“The event itself is only half the story. People meet, people discover connections between projects, people hook up and think about how to do things differently here.”
Rachel Kelly, one of the founders of Manchester Soup, has worked hard to increase the amount of funding available to the winning pitch. “One of the things we wanted to do was to get a sponsor on board,” she says. “We now have a corporate sponsor, Bennett Brooks, who have donated £250 to increase the pot, which allows us to make more of a difference. It’s something we may look to grow this over time. We have also started some merchandising – mugs and so on – anything we can do to increase the pot.”
Manchester Soup is based in the city centre and a lot of its attendees are professional services employees who live or work in the city centre. Says Kelly, “They often give more than the £5. They want to hear about things that are happening in the city and do something different. The projects are really varied, from groups supporting women in prostitution, to animal therapy projects, and an individual who was pitching for a laptop to set up a support project using poetry.”
Surprisingly, the biggest challenge which Manchester Soup faces isn’t unusual. Kelly explains, “We’ve struggled to find people who want to pitch. We’ve had to work quite hard to get the word out and drum up interest from groups, charities and individuals.”
While Soup isn’t an ‘organised’ network, the groups support each other. “We had great support from Sheffield Soup,” Kelly tells me. “They are one of the more established groups in the UK and have strong links with Detroit. We also work really closely with some of the other Soup groups in Manchester which are working in communities.”
If you like the sound of it and want to get involved you can:
• Find your nearest Soup event (as far as I know, there is no central list of where they all happen, so start by searching for “<Your Place> Soup”, unless like me, you live in a place which has an actual soup named after it. Cheshire Soup is a thing. Who knew? It has cheese in it).
• If you can’t find one nearby and want to start one, do that!
• Use your social media powers to retweet and share events for Soup movements near you.
• If you know small community groups or charities, please tell them about Soup. For many Soups you don’t need to be a registered charity, and small projects or individuals can apply.
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Nascent stand-up, fan of fancy words, purveyor of occasional wrongness, haphazard but enthusiastic parent, science-fan, apprentice-feminist.