Belfast Soup

Eat, listen to pitches, vote to make Belfast a better place – co-founder Will McConnell on the philanthropic event that will help make community dreams come true

Belfast Soup involves people eating soup, putting their ideas forward and collectively deciding how to support and change their city. It’s a community meal and crowdfunding experiment that encourages, supports and celebrates projects that aim to make Belfast a better place in which to live, work and play.

From June, we will host a monthly event wherein, for a small donation – £5 or more – attendees will receive soup, salad, bread and a vote. They will have the chance to hear four presentations from ordinary people who want to make their communities better, and can then eat, network, talk about ideas, enjoy music and art and finally vote for their favourite presentation. At the end, the winner of the ballot takes home all of the funds raised during that particular session to carry out their project.

In Northern Ireland, there has always been a culture of ‘no’ – a preconception that we’re not allowed to do things unless we have specific permission or licences from the powers that be. But Belfast is beginning to feel like a different city. It’s starting to dream again, starting to believe that it can make a good name for itself, starting to realise that it has something to offer. We want Belfast to decide what is best for itself, to invest its time and money in realising its full potential, to turn that culture of ‘no’ into a culture of ‘why not?’

We are in a challenging time, with limited availability of public funds and many, many people struggling and suffering as a result. But we, the community, have big, brilliant ideas about how we would like to keep our city alive. Belfast Soup is the democratisation of public spending – it is grassroots democracy in action. And soup!

Detroit Soup has been going since February 2010, and it was a huge success there, raising around $55,000 that has gone directly into funding community projects, with thousands of people getting involved. For years, it was underground, with communities working together and getting on with things without much fanfare, but in recent years has inspired cities elsewhere to take up the philanthropic baton. 

Belfast Soup isn’t in any way officially associated with the Detroit community, we’re just using the idea and doing it our way. There are also regional Soups in Colchester and Liverpool, so we’re not the only ones inspired by this great idea.

What kind of projects do we hope Belfast Soup can assist with? Ideas that make Belfast better. It's not just about raising money, and it's not just about the arts. It's about building community support around new ideas, be they business startups, social enterprises, community groups or individual initiatives. For example, in Detroit, the Soup events have started non-profits, local businesses, after school programs and park clean-ups.

We hosted our inaugural test event in early May 2015, asking people what they would do with £100 to improve their communities, and all of the ideas were amazing. You can check out some of those ideas in the photos section of our Facebook page.

The first official Belfast Soup will take place in June, and will then become a monthly event.

At future Belfast Soups, you can expect to hear about new concepts like hiring ponies for free pony rides in the city, vaccinations for homeless peoples dogs, a best garden’ competition, hosting a multicultural football league – the list goes on. All ideas are welcome. The point is that, no matter who takes home the money, people will have met, eaten soup, exchanged ideas, swapped emails, and will hopefully go off and work together on something in the future. 

During Belfast Soup events, four people pitch ideas. There is a strict no technology rule – we want people to communicate their passion for their ideas without the stress of wondering whether or not they are on the right slide. PowerPoint is just the worst way to try and engage with someone, and not at all what were about. Belfast Soup is also about reclaiming the lost art of conversation. 

The audience then get to ask a maximum of four questions to each presenter. We then eat, giving everyone the opportunity to meet, discuss the pitches and to vote for the project they want to win the pot of money. The person who gets the money will come back to another Soup to share their project's progress. 

If you want to pitch an idea to make Belfast better, contact us via our Facebook page and we will get in touch about pitching for our next event. 

We believe that austerity cuts were and are the worst possible outcome for society at large. They have made people in the arts, for example, become obsessed with their pocket books, and ultimately lose sight of the bigger picture. Austerity has also resulted in a recession of ideas – now, instead of collaborating, competitiveness and infighting have become the norm as arts organisations fight it out for scraps.

Artists can imagine a world without politics, and Belfast Soup is about saying we don’t need permission to make small changes right now, changes that can affect our communities in big ways. Belfast Soup is democratic, and a-political – we want people to come to us, tell us what they want to change and allow us to help them without judgement. Unfortunately, that’s the opposite of how government does it.

In Northern Ireland, we’re told from above what our communities are, and where we should stand, but the truth is, there are so many new communities here that are not defined by religion or politics. There are musical communities, weekend bingo communities, communities of streets and friends, online communities, and they all have their own wants, needs, desires and power. We’re wagering that they also all love soup.

Belfast Soup was co-founded by Will McConnell, Amber Hammill, Kate Moore, Maggie McKeever, Louise Murphy, Amy Joy McConville and Gemma McConnell.