Belfast Soup Company Plants Roots in Community
A unique social economy business is getting to the root of how to make life better for some of Northern Ireland’s most vulnerable people.
Belfast-based Root Soup has found the recipe for success teaching adults with learning difficulties and homeless people how to grow organic vegetables and prepare and serve delicious soups.
Project Manager Alison Pettigrew said its aim was to help change lives by developing employability skills, motivating its volunteers and changing the negative perception of the rest of society towards marginalised groups.
“Our main purpose is work with our volunteers to make them part of the wider community, to teach them social skills and improve their feeling of self worth,” she said.
“What makes Root Soup unique is the partnership between homeless people and people with learning difficulties. People think it is quite strange but it really works.
“People with learning difficulties just see a homeless person as another human being. And it is lovely to see how the homeless guys react. At the beginning they were unsure about working with people with learning difficulties but this relationship has built up and the connections are brilliant.
“All barriers are broken down and they work as a team. The fact that they cook together and share the food has created lasting friendships, “she added.
Since forming in September 2010 the business has grown steadily through word of mouth and the company is now offering its catering services to a variety of community organisations. It has helped many homeless people build up their self esteem, move into their own accommodation and find employment.
Every Friday, the volunteers meet at its vegetable plot in the Castlereagh Hills to learn how to grow and look after its wide variety of root vegetables, peas, salad greens and soft fruits. It currently has around a third of an acre and is looking for derelict ground in South or East Belfast to extend its vegetable growing operation.
This delicious, fresh produce is brought to Inverary House, owned by the Open Door Housing Association, where the volunteers prepare, cook and enjoy a meal every Wednesday afternoon.
The company also provides soup, bread and tea/coffee at St Finnian’s Parish Church every second Thursday of the month and is looking for more churches to take on its services.
Last year, it entered into a partnership with Mencap to provide a week-long Cookery Summer Scheme for adults with learning difficulties. This scheme is being extended to two weeks in August. A number of its volunteers with learning difficulties have been with the project from day one and Alison believes some of them would be very suitable for a career in the catering industry.
She added: “Our ultimate aim is to become self-sustaining and to offer paid employment to our dedicated volunteers. This can only be achieved by continuing to grow the business.
“We are hoping that more and more organisations will use our services for small functions. We are looking to sell our soups to cafés and are planning on setting up a stall at St George’s Market.”
For more information about Root Soup, visit its website at www.rootsoup.co.uk