“Definitely,” says Maddy Diment, president of Oxford’s Project SOUP (Support Oxford’s Upcoming Projects). “From securing funding and publicity for local projects, to empowering people to get involved in local decision-making and raising awareness of food waste, enjoying a simple bowl of soup for an evening can be the first step to making a number of positive changes in your community.”
Project SOUP began in Oxford in 2013. Support came from a social innovation program grant from the Oxford Hub, as well as Community Action Groups (CAG) Oxfordshire. Before anyone could make jokes about waiters and flies the enterprise was up and running, working to a delightfully simple premise, as Maddy explains:
“We invite people to come and have a soup and bread dinner for a £5 minimum donation. After dinner, three or four local community groups pitch their current projects to attendees, followed by a short Q&A. Then everyone votes, confidentially, on which project they’d like to receive the funds raised by the evening, which will feature live music played by local talent. The project with the most votes gets the money taken on the door.”
Project SOUP in Oxford has a decidedly local focus. “One of our key aims is to break down the perception of a ‘Town v Gown’ divide,” says Maddy. “Over the past few years we’ve seen how Project SOUP events help foster collaboration between students and the rest of the local community. We’re really keen to continue supporting local charities and charitable groups – promoting their causes and supporting them financially is at the heart of what we do.”
The venture has its roots in the Soup Movement, which began in Detroit in 2013 as a response to the city’s severe economic problems. Then known as Detroit Soup, now simply ‘Soup’, the movement brought together Detroit’s artistic communities for evening entertainment, warmed by cupcakes, pastries and pots of hot food. Founder Amy Kaherl helped bring Soup to many American cities – and then took it around the world. She was honoured by an invitation to the White House in recognition of her work, and there are now some 60 Soup organisations in the UK.
Oxford’s Project SOUP is big on sustainability, says Maddy: “All the soup we serve is made from surplus ingredients donated by the Oxford Food Bank. We’re passionate about raising awareness about the growing epidemic of food waste – and showing how wrong this is when contrasted against food poverty and homelessness on Britain’s streets.”
Project SOUP hosts one event per term. Past winners include Refugee Resource, which aims to help the lives of refugees and asylum seekers in Oxford, free home tutoring student charity Jacari, and Flo’s, a community-owned hub in Florence Park, Oxford.
Just ask any of them if a bowl of soup can make a difference.