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In the Scottish capital, one entrepreneurial charity night, Edinburgh Soup, aims to entertain and serve the community. Writer Jonny Sweet tells us how the founders cooked up the idea.
Text: Jonny Sweet
Country: Scotland

nce every few months in Edinburgh, something quite magical happens. For just over two years, Edinburgh Soup has been hosting a fantastic night of entertainment, food, and camaraderie, all the while promoting several good causes, allowing local bands to reach a wider audience and donating a big old chunk of change to charity. Founders Phil Bolger and Robert Peacock launched the event back in October 2015, and now on its eighth edition, the evening has gone from strength to strength.

The premise behind the night is quite simple. Representatives of four charities are invited to advertise their causes to the audience, stating their case as the most deserving organisation in attendance with a Dragon’s Den -style pitch. All proceeds from the entrance fee (a minimum of £5 per person), along with donations from sponsors, are awarded to the charity with the most votes.

As well as receiving that warm, fuzzy feeling inside that comes from giving back to the community, attendees are treated to a lovely bowl of soup, a hunk of delicious bread and all the confectionary their teeth can withstand. As if that wasn’t enough, they’ll also be serenaded by three up and coming bands from the city or further afield, creating a night full of community spirit. “First and foremost, we want people to enjoy the night out, enjoy the food, the atmosphere and the music,” says co-founder Robert Peacock. “The fact it’s all going to a good cause is the icing on the cake.”

Giving something back

The idea for the evening dawned on co-founder Phil back when he was lucky enough to do a spot of globetrotting. After visiting many places far more impoverished than his homeland, Phil resolved to establish a night that contributed to the community. He and Robert first crossed paths at a music night at Assembly Roxy, which, coincidentally, would go on to become the regular venue for Soup, and decided to collaborate on precisely such a venture. Exactly what form that would take remained a mystery, but not for long.

The idea really took root after Phil got wind of a similar night taking place in Michigan in the USA, called Detroit Soup. “Detroit, as you may know, has gone through some very tough economic times, and a group of individuals there decided they wanted to do something about it,” explains Robert. “They hatched this idea of a community night based around food. Everyone would chip in some money, which would then be given to whoever had the best social project to pitch to the group. Phil wanted to take that idea and combine it with a proper music night, showcasing new Edinburgh talent. I’ve got to admit it was his brainchild!”

Regardless of where the idea came from, it has proven to be a huge success. With eight Soups now under their belts and a ninth set for early 2018, the night made it onto this year’s Cultural Hot 100 of Scottish magazine The List and has attracted the attention of Edinburgh MP Tommy Sheppard. Attendancefigures have swelled as well. “One Soup was so packed, we actually ran out of soup. That was pretty awkward,” laughs Robert. “We told everyone else who arrived there was none left, and most people were happy to still pay their £5 to help the charities, although a couple of hungry people headed off for food elsewhere, and one guy wanted to haggle us down on price!”


What makes the night so special is its ability to give exposure (and, in the case of winning the public vote, cold hard cash) to causes which might not otherwise be seen or heard by a large audience. The most recent winners, Prep Table, are a perfect example. “Previously, our winners have been projects that are up and running already, but Prep Table is a brand-new start-up, which wants to make it possible for people on low incomes to enjoy a meal out,” explains Rob. “They’re doing their first event in January, and Soup gave them a leg up, so that’s very satisfying.”

And what about the feedback from those not fortunate enough to scoop the prize fund? “Only ever good,” says Rob. “The charities always get something from it, I hope, even if they don’t win. The people who attend are the sort of people who want to support the community, so there’ll always be someone who wants to volunteer with a charity, or who can connect them with a new contact.” It’s a networking and advertising dream for smaller charities, and the fact that everyone who contributes does so on a voluntary basis just goes to underline the community spirit that Soup fosters.

Inevitably people say, ‘Can’t you split the money between everyone?’ which would be nice, but would change the nature of the event. The bands, I think, get to play for bigger crowds than they usually would, so it’s good for them too.” All in all, it’s a win-win situation from which everyone—attendees, bands, charities, organisers—benefits. What more could you want on a cold and frosty evening in the Scottish capital?

The future of Soup

With the last incarnation of Soup attracting an additional sponsor in First Port (a Scottish development agency who specialises in helping social start-ups get off the ground, and contributed an extra £500 to the kitty), Robert says he and Phil are always aiming to expand their horizons. “Of course, more sponsors would be brilliant. It would help us put on a bigger and better night, and help more charity projects.

Everyone who helps put the night on—bands, soup servers, door staff, me and Phil—does so voluntarily, but we’re pretty sure with a bit of financial support, we could take it up a level. We’d really like to book a big-name band and draw more people into the world of Soup!”

Aside from beefing up the prize pot and adding more well-known music names to the line-up, Robert and Phil are also thinking outside the box with regards to expanding their community initiative into new and exciting areas. “We’re always full of ideas! We’ve been thinking about how we can build upon the basic Soup model,” Rob says. “The First Port night was a good example of how we can partner with people to do something slightly different. There are plenty of other spin-off nights we can think of. We’re also looking at how we can help charities in other ways using our experiences with putting on events and building a social media community. If there’s anyone out there who wants to talk to us about it, please get in touch.”

If you’d like to contact Robert and Phil, you can drop them a line at their Facebook or Twitter pages. With Phil setting off on his honeymoon and Robert a new inductee into fatherhood, both have their plates full and the Soup will have to be put on a gentle simmer until 2018. But you can be sure of extra helpings over the course of the next year.

Info Box

- The night was launched in October 2015 as the brainchild of Phil Bolger and Robert Peacock.

- To date, eight editions of the evening have taken place.

- The Soup is donated by Union of Genius, the bread by The Wee Boulangerie, the cutlery and cups by Vegware, the cakes by All About Patisserie, and the music by a variety of local bands.

- Edinburgh Soup has raised approximately £10,000 to date.

- The largest prize pool came last time around, when the winner was awarded £1,300 and the runner-up £500.

- The biggest attendance so far was 192 people.

- The idea was inspired by a similar night in the USA called Detroit Soup, which has hosted over 150 events and raised more than $130,000 for start-ups, non-profits, and charities.

- In total there are almost 200 Soup nights around the world.

- There are 79 in the UK alone, with 63 in the USA, 15 in the rest of Europe, 8 in Canada, 6 in Australasia, 4 in Asia, 3 in Africa and 2 elsewhere in the Americas.

- Anyone wishing to start a Soup in their area can find more information about how to do so here.


More than just a good meal

A few times a year something very special happens in Edinburgh. Edinburgh Soup hosts a fantastic night of entertainment, food, and camaraderie for a good cause. Phil Bolger and Robert Peacock launched the event in 2015. It is now in its eighth edition.

The way it works is very simple. Representatives from four charities are invited to advertise their causes to the audience. They try to show the audience that their cause is the most deserving of the prize and the audience votes for the one they like the best. The charity with the most votes gets all of the proceeds from the entrance fee along with donations from sponsors.

For a £5 entrance fee attendees get a lovely bowl of soup, a hunk of delicious bread, and sweets. They also listen to live music by three up and coming bands. And of course they get that warm, fuzzy feeling inside that comes from giving back to the community.

Even the charities that don't win the big prize can benefit. The people who attend the event all want to support the community, so many of them later volunteer for a charity or help it connect to a new contact. It's networking and free advertising for small charities.



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More than just a good meal



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