Meet the soup kitchens who feed the needy in Norwich

Helping the homeless and hungry on a cold night in Norwich, Sheil Ouzerdine, Dom Cooper and Kate Phi

Helping the homeless and hungry on a cold night in Norwich, Sheil Ouzerdine, Dom Cooper and Kate Phillips from the Salvation Army.Picture by SIMON FINLAY. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

They provide a much-needed service, but are often misunderstood. Norwich's soup kitchens spoke to Polly grice to bust some common misconceptions

The Salvation Army Soup Kitchen Coordinator Major Barry Willson:

There's no need for a soup kitchen in Norwich.

BW: If only that were true! Thanks to the efforts of statutory and voluntary agencies, the number of people who don't have a settled home are relatively low. The figures vary from month to month, but unlikely to be less than ten individuals or more than twenty five at any one time. I take the view that all the time people come looking for food and drink, we will endeavour to be there to serve them.

On a typical cold, dark, damp night when most of us would prefer to be somewhere snug and warm, we will probably give food to 25 to 30 people.

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It's not really used by the needy, people abuse the soup kitchen

BW: It may not be generally appreciated that the service we provide is not just for the homeless - we never challenge anyone at the stall as to whether their presence is justified.

We serve men and women of all ages knowing that we ourselves could easily be in their position if our circumstances were to change.

I've served food in similar situations for over 40 years. Rarely have I encountered people who will attend a service like a soup kitchen unless they really don't have the means to fund their food purchases.

The Salvation Army soup kitchen is only for Christmas

For over thirty years until our retirement my wife and I would host the Christmas alone event for those who would otherwise spend Christmas Day in isolation. Some would come expecting a stereo-typical Salvation Army soup kitchen - the sort we operated in World War 1. Those days have thankfully long gone. The service we sought to offer was more akin to that provided by a decent restaurant.

Thankfully we have Norwich Open Christmas operating at St. Andrews Hall and we applaud their splendid efforts - but we will gladly be there the other 364 days of the year.

It's just one meal, for one night.

BW: It may, however, fend off the pangs of hunger for just one more night. Most of our helpers are more than willing to do more than serve food, and will readily lend a listening ear.

The first priority of the soup run is to ensure that food is available at the point of delivery. We will usually offer warm blankets or thermal survival bags as a matter of course.

We work closely with The Salvation Army Pottergate ARC which has played an important role in the City for the last 17 years, accessed by homeless and other vulnerable and disadvantaged people during daytime opening hours Monday to Friday.

We don't have all the answers and we certainly don't have a monopoly on caring. That is why we work alongside other partner voluntary and statutory agencies, especially City Reach Health Service, the CAPS street outreach team and Norwich City Council.

The Norwich Soup Movement, run by Amy Platten and Chip

People who use soup kitchens are too lazy to find jobs

NSM: Most of the people that come to us fall into the following demographics: The elderly, those living below the living wage with little financial support, refugees, the physically challenged, individuals suffering from mental illness and those suffering from substance misuse.

The concept that these people are too lazy to find jobs is simply not true. Most of these people will have had jobs, houses and a support network at some point in their lives but for one reason or another have not been able to maintain this.

We have yet to find someone that has said given the choice they would choose a life on the streets over a comfortable bed and a job to wake up to that will provide food and clothes for themselves.

Soup kitchens keep people on the street, they encourage homelessness

NSM: In our opinion, soup kitchens are an invaluable life line for vulnerable people. More importantly it is the opinion of the people that use us every week.

We strongly believe that getting people off the streets is very important, and there are services available that can help with that, in the mean time there has to be some relief provided.

Simple, unconditional kindness passed from one human to another.

Volunteering at a soup kitchen is dangerous

NSM: Overall, the people that come to us show nothing but complete gratitude and respect for what we are doing for them and the homeless community.

We are not a registered charity and we do not have insurance for our volunteers.

We do however work from a well lit, central area and we never work with less than four volunteers which usually consist of a variation of ages and gender.

We could not do what we do without our volunteers, we want them to have only good experiences and we want them to feel as fulfilled as we do after volunteering.

The People's Picnic, run by Dale Parker and Karen Cully

Soup kitchens are just for soup.

PP: Although the hands of the clock have turned backwards and we are witnessing impoverishment more commonplace during the 19th century, we feel the hungry deserve more than some Dickensian offering of gruel.

With food donations from local residents and businesses we are able to provide hearty home cooked meals and desserts to the hungry of Norwich along with filled sandwiches and snacks to take away.

Charity starts at home this Christmas.

PP: We are aware it is a difficult time so yes for many, charity may start at home this Christmas but it is not necessarily where it should end.

We do not expect people to put themselves under financial strain to help others by any means but just to help where you can, even by sparing a loaf of bread, it's amazing what one small act of kindness multiplied can achieve.

Norwich doesn't have a homeless problem.

PP: I'm sure if you ask any of the individuals sleeping rough in Norwich this winter they will tell you it's a huge problem for them.

Although we have noticed an increase in the number of rough sleepers in Norwich, the problem lies deeper than that, governmental figures are often being played down and not including the hidden homeless - the huge number of people sofa surfing, people living in hostels, squats, families in bed and breakfast and temporary accommodation.

People are too busy to volunteer

PP: We have been running for less than two years operating from our small household kitchen in Dereham but already have team of over one hundred volunteers.

We try to emphasise to people it's not about how much time you give or how much food you produce that is important, it is about doing what you can, where you are, with what you have.

All our volunteers provide varying degrees of support, time and help; every ounce of human kindness is needed and appreciated.

Quite often it's not about making huge sacrifices, but the small gestures that make a huge difference, a gentle smile or a few kind words can make the world of difference.

Get in touch to find out more about volunteering or donating to any of Norwich's soup kitchens.

Salvation Army: 01603 620747

Norwich Soup Movement: or search Norwich Soup Movement on Facebook.

People's Kitchen: or search People's Kitchen on Facebook.