Souper Powers

Posted by editor 24/04/2013 0 Comment 1747 views

Dominic Povey

The Bath Soup company works with homeless people in its community but also with local growers and restaurants. Big Issue vendor Frank visited to uncover the secret of their magical socially-dynamic broth.

“We’re not making soup to give to the homeless as a hot meal – the company the uses soup as a way of offering training and employment opportunities,” says Dominic Povey (pictured), who despite graduating from an engineering degree has found himself up to his arms in soup.

The entrepreneurial 28-year-old started making soup and selling it on campus to students while at Bath University. Active in his university’s Volunteering Society, he wanted to make sure that his charitable work was sustainable in the long term.

“It was really rewarding, but it was clear that the work I was doing when volunteering wasn’t getting done when I wasn’t there doing it. It wasn’t really changing anything. I wanted to make a sustainable difference, so I decided to turn my soup company into a social enterprise,” recalls Dominic, who lives in Bath but works in Reading and runs his company just one day a week.

A non-profit social enterprise, the company offers training and practical work experience via its Soup School social project. Working with local charities Julian House, the Genesis Trust, and The Big Issue, the SoupSchool takes on people who are or have been homeless, struggling with addiction or experiencing other difficulties and puts them on a 10-week course that gives them practical kitchen and food preparation skills and health and hygiene certification. The aim is to renew their students’ self-determination, improve their confidence and boost their chances of finding work.

“It’s a proper hothouse cuisine scheme,” Dominic says. “Two days on the farm, health and hygiene certification, soup and bread making, and three weeks practical work experience.”

And it gets results: of the 10 course starters, seven finished and three found jobs through their new skills.

Since last year, the company has sold half-a-dozen flavours of soup wholesale to cafés, delis and restaurants around the city. Focused on the Bath community, it brings together local growers, local food outlets, and local people that need work and training.

The irony that his company does this with soup – for whom most people immediately make the connection with homeless soup kitchens – has not gone unnoticed. “But the way we do it, the company makes soup offer sustainable benefits,” he says.

The company also draws its staff, chefs Andy Mills and Chris Rigden, from the same group of people it aims to help.

Chris, 53, started as a volunteer but now works 16 hours a week. Originally from Bath, she moved to Brighton but was sucked into the hedonistic party scene and gradually lost control of her life. “I got really caught up in alcohol. I lost my house, I lost my job, my best friend died. I wasn’t equipped to cope when lots of things went wrong at the same time. It became a cycle and I didn’t know how to get out,” she says.

Homeless in Brighton and again back in Bath, Chris attended a Christian centre for addicts, got clean, and through the Genesis drop-in centre met Dominic and got involved. “I wanted to see people given a chance and not just shovelled into something that was dead-end. I wanted to see that whatever people did they were nurtured and loved and respected,” she says.

“And I didn’t want to be on benefits – that self-respect is essential for me,” she adds. “I realised my age and background wouldn’t look good on a CV, but for the Soup Company it didn’t matter – it was a bonus, in fact.”

Dominic is sure that his is the right track: “We’ve seen big organisations with much more funding than we have fail to address the issue. Charities need look at social enterprise to get things done, especially as funding is cut. But it may well require younger people who cap tap into this move toward socially conscious consumerism.”

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