Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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The soup runs strike back!

September 26 2009
Volunteers and professionals involved in bringing hot food, drinks and provisions to the streets examine the future of runs after a spate of bad publicity The first meeting of the Soup Run Forum took place on 23rd November, bringing together volunteers and professionals involved in bringing hot food, drinks and provisions to the streets. Organised by Alastair Murray, of Unleash, it was attended by key volunteers from a selection of London runs, representatives from the homeless community, a member of the police's Homeless Person's Unit, Inspector Malcolm Barnard ('Barney' to most readers), and Westminster residents. It aimed to examine the future of the runs, especially against Westminster Council's perceived anti-outreach stance and a recent spate of bad publicity in the mainstream media. The need to establish better communications between organisations was discussed, to prevent some areas of the city being saturated whilst others are overlooked. Chris Peacock, of ASLAN, said: "[the soup runs] need to get our house in order, or we play into the hands of the media and Westminster Council". It was also agreed that, in order to ensure the most effective service was provided, it was important for the runs to get feedback from the homeless. There was substantial debate over exactly what function the soup runs should fulfil, whether they should limit their services to rough sleepers or allow others who, for reasons of poverty or social exclusion, currently take advantage of the provisions on offer by the volunteers. One homeless representative pointed out that the actions of those non-homeless who use the soup runs cause the majority of trouble and present a negative image of the homeless, stating "the media blame the homeless for the social problems at soup runs, but they're being wrongly targeted. The majority of genuine rough sleepers don't cause trouble; we're grateful". There was also discussion about how best to provide further emotional and material support to more vulnerable customers. The forum has now helped to establish communication with some of different organisations that arrange soup runs, however it was agreed that for it to be effective more needed to get involved. Fears were voiced that producing details of runs would give councils the information required to target some runs and that some may prefer to remain incognito. Still, there are hopes that in future a more coordinated schedule for the runs will emerge as a result of the Forum meetings, as well as a 'Code of Practice', with simple points such as cleaning up rubbish after their Runs. Hopefully, as a result of these moves, Westminster Council and the public as a whole will be left with no scope to criticise the valuable efforts of the runs. Far from a bleak outlook, the soup runs may just rid themselves of the accusations of littering and nuisance and be seen as volunteer organisations with high ideals fulfilling an important role.