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How the Soup project is changing the UK

Bowl of soup Image copyright Thinkstock

Detroit Soup is a concept for crowd-funding dinners that has raised more than $100,000 (£63,900) for community projects in the Motor City. It has rapidly spread around the UK.

More than 100 people turned up to the first Sheffield Soup in July. "I had no idea that it would be this successful," says founder Pennie Raven.

She started the project less than six months ago, after hearing about the crowd-funding dinners in Detroit from the BBC.

It's a simple concept, explains Raven. You pay a small entry fee in return for a bowl of soup - and the chance to hear local people pitch ideas to help your community.

Image copyright Duncan Stafford Photography
Image caption Sheffield Soup

After questions are taken and liquid meals are served, everyone votes for the project they liked best. The winner gets to keep the money paid at the door.

Convinced that a Soup project must already be up and running in Sheffield, Raven set out to track down the founder so she could offer to help. But it did not take long for her to realise that the concept had not yet reached her city.

"In that moment I just thought: 'Right, well I'll do it.'" Within 48 hours of setting up Sheffield Soup online Raven was being sent emails and messages offering help and support. "I was completely blown away," she says.

At her first event, the ages of those who paid £5 to get in ranged from 15 to over 65. The ideas pitched were as diverse as the audience - from a 3D printing project to a sports club helping people with disabilities.

After a bowl of spicy gazpacho or creamy carrot soup, the audience picked their favourite. It was the Real Junkfood Project that triumphed, winning £540 on the night. The project's volunteers create meals in the community from food thrown away by supermarkets, grocers and food banks.

"I can't quite put my finger on what is so special about Soup," says Raven. "But I had five people say that they were going to set up a group in their neighbourhood on that evening."

Image copyright Duncan Stafford Photography
Image caption Pennie Raven

The network of people running Soups in the UK has grown so fast that Detroit Soup founder Amy Kaherl sometimes finds it hard to keep up.

"It's amazing to me how many people have wanted to start up a Soup and have," she says. "To have 30 in the UK pop up in some six months, it's insane."

There are now Soup projects stretching from Brighton to Glasgow. Some of the founders have asked for advice from Kaherl, others are just getting on with it on their own. All want to replicate the success of Detroit Soup in the US which has raised more than $100,000 (£63,900) for community projects in five years.

But Kaherl is the first to say that Soup events are not just about the money. "It's a little bit of funding, it's a lot more empowering and it's even more about connectivity," she explains.

Image caption Amy Kaherl, founder of Detroit Soup

One of the projects that failed to win the Liverpool Soup in May has already found this to be true. The Housing Hackathon wanted to raise money to hire a venue so that students could get together to create mobile apps to help solve housing problems in the city, explains Patrick Hurley from Liverpool Soup.

"Somebody afterwards went up to them and told them that they didn't need the money that was on offer," he says, adding that one of the audience members had a contact who could give them a venue for nothing.

Even the winners agree that Soup dinners are more about the people they meet there than the money that is given away.

Image copyright Duncan Stafford Photography

Nigel Poulton, from the children's charity The Island, won nearly £1,000 at the inaugural York Soup. "Ninety-three people went away more informed about three different charities," he says, adding that many got in touch afterwards wanting to volunteer in their mentoring scheme or pass on fundraising ideas.

Getting people trading ideas and talking is the sign of a successful Soup event. This is why it's so important to get a network of people engaged with the project well before setting it up, explains Pennie Raven before stopping.

"Do you know what, scratch that. Because the reality is, forget what you know about business and setting something up, because the rules don't apply to Soup.

"Just do it and everything you need will come to you."


The Magazine in the soup

The soup method (March 2015)

Detroit Soup goes to Kathmandu (March 2015)

Can soup change the world? (March 2015)


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