Saturday night was the very first “Soup” held in here in Stirling, Scotland – an evening of community empowerment, connection, and (you guessed it) soup!
What is “Soup”?
Soup is a simple and innovative method for community crowd-funding. The idea: people gather at a venue, everyone puts £5 in the pot, and listen to a few different folks pitch their ideas for a community project. Everyone has soup together, and then each person gets one vote to decide which pitch they liked best. Whichever pitch gets the most votes takes home the pot of cash to use for their project.
It’s an idea that originated from Detroit, USA – a simple way to get community projects off the ground – and has had all sorts of success. Now the idea has hopped the pond and is happening all over the UK, with an Edinburgh Soup happening here in Scotland. Stirling’s first Soup didn’t disappoint either, a lively evening of discussion, food, and community.
The inaugural Stirling Soup
When I arrived just before 7pm at the Albert Halls, the queue was out the door. Over 125 people registered their interest to attend, and when the day came, it was standing room only. Good effort, Stirling! I rushed back to the kitchen area, where I found Théo (aka mr.Riverside Bakery) furiously slicing up bread – we’d donated some sourdough loaves to go with the soup. I begged another bread knife off the kind bar staff and got to work slicing the crusty loaves too. Many slices later, we had a mountain of bread to offer the growing crowd.
Bread sliced, we took our seats, and settled in for the pitches. Kathryn, the fabulous organiser, set the scene for the evening, and gave some of the local contributors a couple of minutes to introduce themselves. Theo explained the Bakery’s role in creating a vibrant, thriving food system (one loaf at a time), and a fella from Lush talked about their charity work (and free hand massages).
“Social connection of a cup of tea”
First pitch, Contact the Elderly. They offer a cuppa, conversation and social interaction for some of the most isolated elderly folks in the Stirling area. These ‘contact groups'( with volunteer drivers to transport folks, and volunteers offering time to come chat) are often the only regular contact with the outside world some of these elderly have. There are 6 contract groups across the Forth Valley, and if they won the cash, they pledged to promote another contact group in Stirling, and one in Dunblane.
“Why are we letting corporations cook for us?”
Next pitch, Nikki from Couthie Cantie, with her idea for a Community Cook School here in Stirling. Recently trained as a provider of “The Cookbook Project”, which aims to build a food literacy revolution through innovative cookery education, Nikki hopes to bring cookery skills and enthusiasm to those who need it most in Stirlingshire. The funds won would go towards a “mobile cook kit,” in order to start teaching cooking skills to those who have limited facilities. She ended with a very apt quote from food activist Michael Pollan, “…is there any practice less selfish, any labour less alienated, any time less wasted, than preparing something delicious and nourishing for people you love?” Love it.
“Get out and grow”
The Conservation Volunteers pitched their idea of a Green Gym for the Stirling area. This would provide exercise through practical activities such as planting trees, sowing meadows and establishing wildlife ponds. I can really get behind the idea of a Green Gym – but had to look up what a “Green Gym” was once I got home, so next time more clarity would be good!
“Just a wee drop of money from you lovely people”
The Bridge of Allan community council was next – who had just invested a lot of time, effort, and money into the much needed refurbishment of the Bridge of Allan play park. After this long, hard-won journey, the community really wanted to have a fun day to celebrate and raise the profile of the play park – which is where any awarded money would go.
“Campaigning to befriending”
Time for Soup!
After the pitches, we all devoured a hearty meal of soup made by Sprinkle Happiness, and bread made by Riverside Bakery CIC. People asked the pitchers questions, offered help, made connections. Théo and I were there in our Bakery capacity, and we had loads of folks coming up to us to comment on the bread, express their interest in ordering, and wonder about potential future collaborations. It’s nice to be out of the bakery, chatting to folks, and making connections around good food and community – it was great!
While we ate and chatted, we also voted. The votes were counted, and the winner announced – Stirling citizens for Sanctuary won the most votes and the £630 pot of cash. Well done and well deserved!
I heart Soup
The “Soup” method brings together three elements – food, community and ideas for the common good – to inspire innovation, garner community involvement, and fund projects.
For the pitchers, it’s an opportunity to let their ideas out into the community, to spread the message, make contacts, and potentially take home the cash. For the community, it’s a chance to hear all the uplifting activities already happening in the area, to contribute to those activities if you want, and discuss the benefits of those activities. Plus, it’s super social and you get fed! What could be better?
“Soup” is a great example of how traditional community development can be more participatory, more engaging, more innovative, more fun. Get your thinking hats on, Stirling – you’ve got until September to develop your ideas for the next Stirling Soup. Stoked to see where this goes!