The Railway Hotel

Sunday 9th March 2014

2pm – 5pm


Imagine if those who’ve had, or are having, the greatest difficulties in life were the instigators of a flourishing society…

There are many ways in which people are divided. One being the divide between those in trouble, or in need, and those who are ok (for a given value of ok) and in a position to help those deemed less fortunate. It’s a good thing to help one another, but that’s only empowering when the relationship balances: sometimes I help you, other times you help me. There’s much terminology in our contemporary age that indicates groups of people who are recipients. Such people are often given labels associated with sympathy or pity – vulnerable, enfeebled, needy, impoverished, homeless. Others might become bestowed with a label used with scorn – offender, drug user, addict, alcoholic, lunatic, asylum seeker. All of these people get marginalised. They’re people on the edges. People that need fixing. People that should be packed together safely in their own special places, where they can’t upset ‘normal’ citizens.

An example…

At a recent meeting, a couple of volunteers talked about how they had to move on people with (presumed) mental health problems from a library (NOT a Southend library, I hasten to add, Southend libraries do well when it comes to inclusion). The well-intentioned volunteer explained that it’s a busy library and others needed the space. She elaborated ‘It’s not as though they were even using the library properly, they just wanted somewhere to go. They upset the regular customers.’ When I expressed my thoughts that it’s not these individuals, but society that needs fixing – to be more understanding and accepting of people of all sorts – she gave me the oh you’re so naïve! look (narrow-minded people can easily confuse compassion with idiocy) and explicated ‘I’ve spoken with lots of these people. They don’t want to be in public places, they prefer to go somewhere they can feel safe and get the help they need; a place where they can drink coffee and play table tennis’. Well possibly people have said that. If I were being humiliated in a public space, I’d probably prefer to go somewhere ‘safe’ too!

Southend Soup was ever to be a true community stew; a mixing pot where diverse people can connect – people that wouldn’t ordinarily come together. A place where stories can be shared and understanding can flourish.

Since hearing about ‘Imagine Chicago’ in 2009 – where people with the greatest difficulties became community leaders – I’ve been keen to support something of that ilk in my home town. Whatever difficulties a person lives with, they also have skills, passions, knowledge and experience. Furthermore, they can become the best role models for others who face challenges in life.

Soup is for everyone; including people who perhaps are more accustomed to being the recipients of community or statutory support. So, for the next soup, let’s make an efforts to invite anyone with ‘troubles’ to join the party and get involved.

Come along. Meet neighbours. Share your story – connect at a human level. Realise what we can all achieve when we value one another – when we don’t go along with artificial divides that separate us into the needy and the altruistic givers.

Remember that you don’t need to have an ‘Idea’ to attend soup. We encourage people to come forward with ideas, but we only need a few for each gathering. What we do need though is an even greater diversity of humans to come together to share food, have fun and make new friends. After only two meetings, people attending soup have already made connections that are making a profound difference in their life.

If you represent an organisation, faith or support group that works with people who have challenges in life, then please extend this invitation to the people you connect with. If they’re happy to come, we invite them as equal participants – sharing stories, laughing and having fun with everyone else.

People don’t need to pay the donation if that money is earmarked for essentials, or not available. Money must not exclude people from getting involved with soup. Donate what you can to the ideas funding pot, but if you can’t donate funds, think about what else you could bring – which could be your story, or a talent such as music, art or poetry.

The rules for soup are that people are kind and do not cause harm to others. I believe almost all humans can manage that. At least for a couple of hours…

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