Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Key soup runs to go indoors

July 07 2011
Providers will stop operating in the Cathedral area to avoid the proposed byelaw being enacted


Soup run representatives have agreed to stop operating outdoors around Westminster Cathedral in a bid to avoid the proposed byelaw banning soup runs in the area.

A Cathedral Soup Month, beginning 27 June, will publicise this and encourage groups and individuals operating soup runs in the vicinity to stop offering free food to homeless people outdoors (see opposite page).

The compromise is the latest in a series of anxious negotiations between members of Housing Justice’s Soup Run Forum, Westminster City Council, local residents and businesses, churches and the police. According to all parties involved, the overall message of Cathedral Soup Month will be: “giving out soup on the street in the cathedral area is no longer the right thing to do”.

In the last issue of The Pavement we reported that a dedicated group of eight people were due to meet on 30 May to “finalise any agreement or discuss enforcement of the byelaw”. Since then, the group has met twice. Following the first meeting, on 14 June, it issued a joint statement in which all members – including the council and local residents – agree “soup runs play an important role in helping destitute people and should be part of the co-ordinated activity which seeks to help everyone sleeping rough in London to come in off the street.”

At the meeting, the statement goes on to report, the group agreed an action plan to reduce the number of soup runs operating on the street in the Westminster Cathedral area to zero over a short space of time. The soup runs will, instead, be encouraged to operate their services indoors, something which some have apparently already started to do.

The problem is the lack of suitable indoor spaces in the area. In the minutes of the last Soup Run Forum, attendees defined what they judged to be suitable: “unacceptable conditions would be if they were not open-access services. Another problem could be if indoor soup runs were expected to pay rent, as the groups would not be able to afford this”. Possibilities mooted at that meeting include the West London Day Centre and Rochester Row, though the latter has since been rejected as not possible.

The second meeting took place on 22 June. As on previous occasions, the group’s chair, the chief executive of Thames Reach, Jeremy Swain, took to Twitter, reporting: “3rd v. productive meeting of group tasked with finding voluntary solution to soup run issues at cathedral piazza. Peace has broken out.” Housing Justice’s Alastair Murray said the aim now was to find “dispersed” provision for soup runs in Westminster and in the rest of London.

In the meantime, opponents of the byelaw can sign Liberty’s petition against the ban. The leading civil liberties organisation has created page on its website dedicated to the campaign, on which it states its position: “Liberty, along with many other third sector organisations working in this area, believe the proposed byelaw is fundamentally flawed. No one sleeps rough for a free sandwich”.

While Westminster City Council’s proposed byelaw has hit the headlines, it’s not the only council cracking down on the handing out of free food. Islington Town Hall’s executive member for planning, regeneration and transport recently branded local Hare Krishna charity Food For All a “nuisance”. Labour councillor Paul Convery said: “However well-intentioned they are, we’d rather the food vans stayed away. They are not needed here and can be a nuisance to local residents and businesses.”