An Angus community soup initiative is about so much more than just the food, Brian Stormont discovered.
A community project in Brechin which delivers soup and baked potatoes to people all over the town has gone from strength to strength.
Based at St Andrew’s Church, a hard-working team of volunteers make the soup every week which is providing a vital opportunity for people to connect again after being in various lockdowns for much of the last 13 months.
In partnership with Stirfresh and Upper Dysart’s Community Larder project, bags of prepared vegetables for making soup and baked potatoes are delivered weekly to the hall.
There they are combined with other products from the Co-op and batches of soup are made ready to be delivered throughout the community.
Starting off with only around 60 people taking delivery, the initiative has expanded to such an extent that they are now making 300 deliveries a week.
A catering fridge and freezer was kindly supplied by Angus Council, delivery of which was kindly carried out by Black’s of Brechin free of charge.
Kathy Calderwood, community pioneer at the Co-op, who helped the project get off the ground, said: “At Stirfresh at Upper Dysart they produce the pre-cut soup packs for Aldi and Lidl and baked potatoes. Teresa Spark, who is the charity coordinator has been pushing these out to any community larders or community groups that she knows of.
“She contacted people all over Angus to get them to start a soup initiative with help from them by handing out the packs.
“After an email was sent out I was inundated with people saying the community pantry should be doing this.
And now every week a production line operates in the church hall to provide soup for anyone who wants it.
“We have a team of volunteers who are actually cooks who get a delivery of these soup packs to the church hall at St Andrew’s where they do a production of soup which is all put into cups, frozen,” Kathy continued.
“The Brechin Community Football Trust and various other volunteers go and deliver pots of soup to people around town who have either shown an interest in receiving it or those who we know are in need.
“It has been up and running for about seven weeks. We started off with about 60 to 70 and now it is over 300.”
People reconnecting again
While the soup will be welcomed by many who are in need, the real ethos behind the project is getting people connecting again.
“It’s not about food poverty, it’s about reconnection and social interaction,” Kathy continued.
“There are a lot of people, not all families, maybe middle-aged upwards, couples and individuals, who are benefiting from it and are now looking for the same drivers every week. They get to know who is coming and they have a wee chat. It’s fantastic!
“A couple of weeks ago we did baked potatoes with tinned meats, like mince. They didn’t know they were getting it so it was a huge surprise. We will change it up every so often, but the whole social connection, giving people confidence and getting them chatting again is key.
“The Brechin Community Football Trust is really driving the community to come together to work with everyone in the town to get going on different things and it’s great to be a part of it through my role as community pioneer at Co-op.”
Development officer at Brechin Community Football Trust, Jamie Reynolds, said the soup initiative had been massively rewarding to be a part of.
“One of Brechin Community Football Trust’s main focuses is health and wellbeing, so to be involved in this project and being able to provide healthy nutritious meals to the community has been incredible to see,” he added.
“For me personally, it’s great to get out and about delivering these meals as it’s giving people the opportunity to have a chat on the doorstep when we’ve all been very isolated for such a long time, especially with those who are interested in the football club and what we’re up to.
“I even got asked for an autograph from one household… I had to explain I wasn’t a player and they wouldn’t want mine!
“I’d like to take thank Stirfresh and Upper Dysart for the brilliant work they do and the most important thing for me is seeing organisations like ourselves and the church working collaboratively to get the best outcome possible.”
Strength to strength
Liz Howson of St Andrew’s Church said the initiative has been going from strength to strength.
“Our vestry agreed the church hall could be used for production – it has been sitting empty during the last year – and it’s been all go from there,” she added.
“Brechin is an area of high deprivation and food insecurity has become heightened during the pandemic.
“We hope to supply a package of freshly- prepared soup for those living alone and to families, on a weekly basis. There will be three varieties of soups varying over a three-week period. It is hoped that eventually some group cooking will be possible to encourage families to produce their own soup as we do not wish anyone to become dependent on us.
“The community has been most generous by providing containers, labels and printing and the local FairShare store has provided some dried ingredients. I am delighted that so many people have volunteered to help, including three cooks who are currently on furlough!
“I feel privileged to be able to use my love of cooking for others and I hope this will enable the church to reach out into the community in a useful way.”
Teresa Spark, charity coordinator for the Upper Dysart Larder, said the Brechin initiative was a trailblazer and is delighted to see organisations in the town come together to support others.
“The Brechin Soup project was the first soup initiative to get started within Angus, and has been hugely successful,” she continued.
“It really has been wonderful to see various organisations in Brechin unite to work together to help those most in need within their local community.
“Our aim, with each project, is to help feed as many people as we can, especially children, and those who are in need, individuals or families, those who are maybe struggling financially, with mental health, social isolation etc.
“We donate soup packs (ready prepared vegetables), and ready-cooked baking potatoes. The soup packs and baked potatoes can then either be given out or the soup packs made into large pots of soup.
“Those in need can then be given freshly made soup to feed themselves and/or their family nutritious and locally sourced food.”
An Angus Council spokesperson added: “We are delighted to support this joint initiative with St Andrew’s Church and Brechin Community Football Trust as part of the recovery programme in Brechin.
“This continued partnership has a focus on breaking down barriers to social isolation with the renewal of social connection in the community. We were in a position to offer this equipment and very pleased to make a valued contribution in working with our community groups.”