Photography: David Kwaw Mensah
Brixton Soup Kitchen began in 2012 when Solomon Smith was moved by the sight of Brixton’s homeless community on the brink of another cruel winter in south London.
He and co-founder Mahamed Hashi reached out to friends and family for donations of clothing and sleeping bags to distribute to people in need.
“I didn’t think I was going to do this as a full time job. I was just going to do it because at the time it was very cold and it was raining. I just felt that they needed some clothes and something warm in their belly,” recalls the 31-year-old Brixton native.
In addition to serving up to 40 hot meals a day, the BSK has extended its services to include a food bank, legal advice and a CV clinic for jobseekers. It all happens without a single penny of government funding, instead relying on donations from local food outlets including Greggs, Nandos, Pret a Manger, pizzeria Franca Manca and Lidl.
Four years later, their kind gesture has snowballed into a well-respected organisation transforming the traditional soup kitchen model and the lives of those who walk through its doors.
Part of BSK’s success can be attributed to the way they’ve included and involved the local neighbourhood. Solomon Smith explains how they did it.
“You need to have the passion, or it’ll never work. When you’re passionate about something, encouraging other people to believe in your vision becomes an easier thing.
We don’t make any money from doing BSK, so there is no personal gain. For me just doing a bit of kindness goes so far, and I’m doing this for my kids, for my community. I’m showing them it’s not about making rap videos or selling drugs to make it.
I’m just giving homeless people hope and food – and the amount of goodness that comes back to us is astonishing.”
“One of the main reasons why I have Snapchat is because I’m letting people know the nitty gritty of what’s really going on. I’ve locked off all my personal social media and just use the Soup Kitchen account because everything I do is Soup Kitchen.
I went to Miami and I had people from America saying ‘you’re the guy from the soup kitchen!’ I think showing people how it all goes down is part of getting them involved.
When we celebrate one of our regulars getting a job on Twitter, we know that a lot of people on our social media are looking for work, and that they can relate.”
“You need to have a plan and the drive. Without a plan it won’t work. A lot of people always believe that they won’t make it. A lot of people think ‘I’m from this area, and people from this area don’t usually make it’ and you need to get that out of your head.
We are constantly planning and thinking of new ways to engage with the community which is why we open our doors and host events like the BBQ Splash.”
“You need to have a good team around you, if you don’t have a good team around you the project will crumble. For me I’m still learning myself to let some things go and to let the team control it.
We always welcome new members to the team but what really sets those that stay and those that leave apart are intentions. It’s great having people wanting to be part of what we do but your mind has got to be right. More recently we’ve been working with organisations who direct people who are not in employment or education our way.”
Lead by example
“The worst type of person you can be is the one who expects people to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself. I let my volunteers see me clean toilets if necessary to let them know that they are just as important as me.
Everyone is well aware that me and Hashi aren’t making any money out of what we do so it’s always clear that we’re not benefiting while other people are working.”