Soup runs, or soup kitchens, have a longstanding place in the mainstream provision for homeless people.
It is thought that the first soup runs emerged in the late 18th century and were invaluable over the following centuries, especially during economic crises like the Irish Famine and the Great Depression. The global financial crisis and subsequent austerity measures have seen an increase in the use of soup kitchens as more people find themselves in vulnerable financial situations.
Despite their good intentions, soup runs have met with criticism over the years. In 1834 soup kitchens were actually made illegal in Britain under the Poor Law Amendment Act, partly because they attracted so-called vagrants. The most notable recent censure was Westminster’s planned ban of soup runs (as well as rough sleeping) around Westminster cathedral in 2011. The plans were eventually dropped, but they demonstrate the ongoing strength of feeling against the practice of giving free hot food to those on the streets.
In what has become an increasingly polarised debate, those against soup runs claim that such activities encourage dependency, serve many people who are not homeless, and even sustain rough sleeping. For their part, soup-run organisers have countered that they are feeding some of the most vulnerable people in society and responding to an immediate need.
Given the endemic food poverty in Britain and the drastic increase in the number of foodbanks, it’s clear that there are more people than just the homeless who can and should benefit from soup runs. Most soup runs are indiscriminate in whom they serve and admit that they are aware that many of their users are not rough sleepers or homeless.
At Mustard Tree we see the benefit that soup runs can have. Each and every Friday evening, between 7 and 9pm, we serve hot, nutritious meals at our Ancoats headquarters. We cater for around 70 people who not only live on the streets, but also in hostels or other types of temporary accommodation.
And while we realise that soup runs can’t address all the issues of the attendees, we also know that they do much more than simply feed. To those who might be isolated and marginalised, they offer an opportunity to talk and socialise. We can also talk about the work that the charity does, and point them in the direction of other services that can help, as well signpost them to the Mustard Tree headquarters where they can receive blankets and warm clothing.
Furthermore, soup runs act as fundamental first step in starting relationships with clients; a chance, albeit brief, to develop a trusting relationship that may help in the future. It could be the vital link between providing people with a hand-out, and giving them the opportunity to receive a hand-up from one of our other services.
We are always looking for volunteers to help on these soup runs. If you’re interested in becoming involved, you can find out more information on our volunteering page.
And if you, or someone you know, are in desperate need of food, you can download our soup kitchen dates and times document.
Written by Jamie Faulkner, FireCask