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This is the first outing in a new line of exploration for Amble. As well as illuminating what’s terrific and current in Chester, we want to look further afield, to our creative neighbours and see what inspires. Liverpool certainly doesn’t disappoint:

What does a dancer, an audio network, a community garden, and women’s support service have in common? For one June evening in Liverpool, these grassroot projects all shared a stage to pitch to a crowd of soup-eating supporters for the opportunity to take home £485. This is Liverpool SOUP, part of a global micro-funding phenomenon. If you haven’t heard about the SOUP project yet, prepare to be impressed.

Liverpool SOUP is modelled on the US original “Detroit SOUP”. There are many SOUP projects hosted across the world. The basic format is explained below:

  1. Groups or individuals who have a project to benefit the local community send in their idea.
  2. Four are chosen.
  3. The SOUP is hosted in the city. Supporters pay a donation (about £10) to enter. This donation gets them a bowl of soup and one vote.
  4. The groups pitch their idea to the supporters for no more than four minutes.
  5. There is a chance to ask questions.
  6. While everyone enjoys their soup and chats, votes are cast for the worthiest project.
  7. The winner is announced. They go home with the money raised and later share their success.

Not every SOUP follows this format. Some ask for a smaller donation, some split the donation proportionally between first and second place. However, the concept at the heart of it – giving a voice to local grassroot projects, has translated across the world.

The first Detroit SOUP took place in 2010. Since then well over $130,000 has been awarded to community projects, many of which couldn’t have continued without SOUP support. There are now around 40 SOUPs across the UK. Liverpool SOUP was run from May 2015 – February 2017 by Patrick Hurley. More recently, Louisa Burman captained the team reviving the SOUP concept in Liverpool, and they hosted the first event on June 18th. The Brink, a dry bar near the city centre, played host to the evening’s events. Representing Amble, I travelled to Liverpool as a first time SOUP supporter, to see what it was all about.

It wasn’t like anything I’d been to before. As a supporter, I was welcomed like a hero. In return for my £10, I got a little card token to use as my voting slip. I was quite early, so I had plenty of time to take in the space and speak to other supporters. The lack of alcohol at the bar puzzled me at first, until Louisa explained that it was a community ‘dry’ bar, often used as a safe space for recovering alcoholics.

Everybody was very friendly, and I soon got chatting to the people around me. There were booklets on the table containing details of the people pitching. The lady I was sitting next to turned out to be one of them, so I had a good chat with her. She said that the idea she might be going home that night with hundreds of pounds was almost too good to be true!

The organisation was bang on. Exactly at the start time, Louisa stood at the front and welcomed everyone, explaining the concept to anyone new. Within minutes the first group was advancing onto the stage, clutching large photographs of their community garden space. With a strictly allotted four-minute slot, and time-limited questioning time, the pitches flew by.

The pitches themselves were very impressive. Some speakers were clearly more experienced than others, but it didn’t matter. If they didn’t make it perfectly clear in their pitch what they were going to spend their award money on, they were questioned gently but firmly by the community of supporters to clarify their intentions. Winners are strongly encouraged to share their success stories after they’ve spent the money, and the voters were keen to know what their money would be used for.

The four pitches were very different. This apparently, is one of the great joys of the SOUP project. We had Croxteth Community Garden, hoping to make their space more accessible for those with additional needs. Then Laura Marvel, a dancer wanting to make a music video celebrating the diversity of Liverpool’s dance scene. Up next was the South Liverpool Domestic Abuse Service, asking for funds to train more volunteers to support women outside of working hours. Finally, Liverpool Audio Network pitched for the money to host events in Liverpool, bringing together struggling musicians in the city.

How to choose? I was quite torn. Fortunately, this was the moment the soup was served, giving us plenty of time to mull it over. The soup, incidentally, was delicious, hot and plentiful. I could’ve had seconds if I wanted! On this occasion, it was tomato: slightly spicy, very nice. But I still had a decision to make. I felt quite important as I made my vote, although it’s interesting that I thought I knew who the winner would be.

There was a definite feeling of hushed anticipation as Louisa appeared back on stage to make the announcement. But first, she revealed the amount that the winners would be taking home. £485! I did a quick head count, there were about 50 people there. It was a very healthy sum. And the winner was – The Croxteth Community Garden! This led to one of the loveliest moments of the evening. The group had a little boy with them, and he shouted with delight when he realised his team had won.

The winners were invited on stage to offer a message of thanks. They spoke very warmly about their gratitude and what it would mean to them. The other pitchers were obviously disappointed, but the whole atmosphere was wholly supportive and kind. I was sat next to one of the ladies who hadn’t won. She was happy for them and said it’d still been a really fantastic experience for her.

I had a chance to speak to Ola, Tony and Rachael from the Community Garden team afterwards. They were genuinely overwhelmed, hadn’t thought for a minute that they would win, and couldn’t wait to get started on their project. One of their main goals is to build an accessible bench for wheelchair users in the garden. They showed me before and after pictures of the progress they’d made so far. It was clearly so important, not just to them, but to all the people in the community who used the space.

I spent much of the journey back to Chester looking at the messages on Twitter @LiverpoolSOUP, and reflecting on just what a fantastic event I’d been part of. The evening was an outstanding success, and I’d enjoyed being a spectator. I could have just given my £10 to any charity, but I got far more than a bowl of soup out of taking part in something like this.

What do you think, people of Chester? Would you like to see a ChesterSOUP set up in our city? We would be joining hundreds of towns and cities across the world, giving directly to community projects of every shape and size.

Do you have a fantastic grassroots project in or around Chester that would love some funding?

Could you offer food, a space to host, or your time to bring ChesterSOUP to life?

Would you like an evening of pitches and soup in great company, knowing you were making a difference to your community?

If so, get in touch. You can email hello@amble.to so we can share your story and keep you posted in Chester SOUP related murmurings. Or you can always read out to us on Twitter @Amble_hq

Special thanks to Austin Ray for the photographs.