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Soup runs come in from the cold

September 30 2010
King George‘s Hostel is just one of a wave of more comfortable runs

Long queues, waiting in the cold, stares or abuse from passers-by... users of soup runs may not have to pay money, but there is often another price to pay. However, one hostel is aiming to change that by helping to bring soup kitchens indoors.

King George's Hostel in London's Victoria currently provides space for two soup kitchens; the Good Samaria Network and Streetlytes. The innovative scheme came to life in May 2009 when the manager of King George's Hostel, Stephen Davies, offered space to various soup kitchens through Housing Justice. "I wanted to help them provide a similar service but with a bit more dignity," he explains, "particularly in the winter months".

Another factor was the complaints made about soup runs located near Westminster Cathedral by people living in the area: "We're just round the corner," said Mr Davies, "so I thought we could help, and alleviate the concerns of the neighbours at the same time."

Donald Ewers, manager of the Good Samaria Network, was keen to take up the offer. The group had been running a soup kitchen at Temple Station since September 2004, feeding an average of 25 people a night. After dealing with pushing, shoving and confrontations, Mr Ewers says, there was little time for outreach work: "You can see when people are very needy, but you don't get quality time to speak to them on the street".

However, he says, the atmosphere at the hostel is completely different: "The crowd is much better managed. They conduct their behaviour according to the environment they are in." In their first year at King George's Hostel, the Good Samaria Network has reported no incidents.

"There is time to sit and talk," adds Mr Ewers. "We can signpost people to services that can help them. In a hostel, you get warmth, attention, a chance to socialise and somebody to laugh with." As well as supporting homeless people, the group is providing training and experience to volunteers, some of whom are professionals (including a nurse and a doctor) and others who are unemployed.

Whether the concept of the indoor soup run will expand remains to be seen. Mr Davies points out not many other hostels have the same amount of space as King George's. However, at the latest Soup Run Forum, he learned about three other similar schemes in different venues: The Catholic Worker's community café; St Patrick's in Soho; and the Recovery Chapel in Deptford. The Good Samaria Network soup run takes place at King George's Hostel on Monday, with plans to add a Wednesday date, while Streetlytes' soup run happens on Tuesdays from 6pm to 9pm.