In case you hadn’t noticed, the race to Christmas is on. Supermarket shelves are stocked with turkeys, puddings and decorations, high street shops are filled with tinsel and every bar and restaurant you pass has a poster announcing that they’re taking festive bookings. It’s the time of year when it’s the norm to splurge on eating and drinking; it’s also the season of goodwill.
In 1998 two business people decided to combine these two aspects of the run-up to Christmas. StreetSmart, which raises money for homeless charities, was started by William Sieghart, the founder of Forward Publishing (where the StreetSmart offices are based) and Mary-Lou Sturridge, former managing director of the Groucho Club
. StreetSmart director Glenn Pougnet describes how it all began: “They wanted to do something to help the homeless and had tried the usual food and clothes collections, and they realised the issue of homelessness went much deeper than just food and shelter. So they started the trust to raise funds to make a real long term difference. Walking into a Soho restaurant past people on the streets gave them the idea of collecting £1 per table. Someone clever at the Groucho Club re-programmed the till to make it easy for the staff and they raised a few thousand quid before spinning it out to other restaurants in Soho and places like Oxo Tower
, St John
and the River Café
It’s an easy way to raise money – a card is placed on the tables at participating restaurants throughout November and December to inform customers of the scheme. Most places use electronic tills, so a button can be assigned to the donations. This means there’s very little admin to deal with as the tills record the donations separately. There are virtually no overheads either, as Pougnet explains: “They also were able to go out and find a corporate sponsor willing to fund the campaign. This has been Deutsche Bank for the last eight years and their support means every single penny raised at the restaurants goes to help, and nothing is taken out for salaries or administration.”
The StreetSmart campaign runs all over the UK, from Edinburgh and Glasgow to Surrey and Southend. Money raised in each area goes to local charities, therefore the funds raised in London restaurants will be donated to London charities, which include day centres, shelters, advisory services and arts projects. The funds provided by StreetSmart are considerable – last year they gave over half a million pounds, with most individual charities getting between £5,000 and £20,000. Among these was Shelter From The Storm
, London’s only free homeless shelter, who received £24,000 to go towards a new shower block and general running costs that include beds, cooked breakfasts and dinners for 36 homeless people, every day of the year.
It’s an invaluable contribution, particularly given that homeless charities have had to contend with heavy cuts to their budgets in recent years. Westminster Council has been actively trying to ban soup kitchens since 2007, and there is a view – supported somewhat surprisingly by Big Issue founder and editor in chief John Bird – that they encourage vagrancy rather than help. Where do StreetSmart stand on this? “That's a tricky one” says Pougnet. “Providing someone with a meal is of course helping them in immediate need, but long term and in order to prevent someone remaining homeless greater support is required.”
“Over 40% of our funding is channelled into preventing young people falling into the trap in the first place. With 80,000 young people each year experiencing homelessness we and our partners Deutsche Bank feel this is an important area to focus on.”
And which restaurants participate? It’s a lengthy list that includes Michelin-starred Restaurant Gordon Ramsay
and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
, glitzy Nobu
and Asia de Cuba
, hip Bistroteque
, old favourites like Quaglino's
and Kensington Place
, and pubs like the Jugged Hare
and Newman Street Tavern
raised an incredible £14k last year, and founder Yianni Papoutis puts this down to having a very high volume of customers, but mostly, that few say no to adding a mere £1 to their bill. At the end of the day, what’s £1 when you’ve had a good meal that’s helping your city’s most important cause?
For the full list of participating restaurants, click here.
Added on November 10, 2013