Chris Allen: Speaking from the Heart
As we're finalising the details for our February event, it's great to reflect on the impact our events can have over and above the pot of cash awarded to the project who earn the most votes. As a committee we work really hard to create a constructive and collaborative environment, for us it's really important that we're brining people together who genuinely care about Liverpool and want to learn more about how they can support the doers in our communities.
We touched base with Chris Allen who pitched at our October Liverpool SOUP and were interested to hear about why he started Ullet Road Church Rebels, the opportunities which came to the club as a result of his pitch and he gave some brilliant advice for any future pitchers out there!
What initially drove you to start the Ullet Rd Church Rebels and why do you think grassroots projects like yours are valuable to local communities?
The Rebels were founded out of a sense of injustice. Over the last few years, we have seen growing numbers of people displaced from their homes in the Middle East and Africa, in particular. Millions of people have been forced out of their homes as a result of the failed wars waged by our own country as well as other failed interventions overseas. A minority of these displaced people have sought safety in Europe. They arrive traumatised, vulnerable and scared but also with hope that they will be treated with dignity. Sadly, that does not happen. With no money and very little in the way of food and possessions people seeking asylum in the UK are mostly left in a state of loneliness where they have nothing but the memories that traumatise them. Many of these people are young people and children that are here on their own. They are formally known as 'unaccompanied children'.
We set up our football club to extend a welcome to young men in this position. We are a community that offers a welcome, friendship, support and sport. We not only seek to negate the feeling of hostility experienced by these young men in our own little way, but to replace it with a different kind of social environment that is positive, engaging and that enhances well being and social integration. So far, I think we have achieved some success in doing that with the players who speak about our club as a family. We have also had some success in reaching out to schools and colleges. The club works with teachers and students in local schools to build better understandings of the lives of people seeking asylum in the UK. We do this by giving talks and providing opportunities for students to meet the players who can talk to them about what it's like to seek asylum in the UK. So we add value to our community in that way, I think.
You hadn’t been to Liverpool SOUP before you pitched, was it what you expected?
We were recommended to SOUP by our local Councillor, Lawrence Brown, who wanted to support our project. He knew we needed to attract funding to survive. I'd heard about the Dragon's Den and was told it was similar but, beyond that, I wasn't too sure what to expect. As it turned out, it was quite different to Dragon's Den. We and 3 other local projects were invited to speak to an audience of friendly and supportive people. Each member of the audience had given a donation at the door which added up to about £650. After the audience heard us all speak, they then voted on which project they wanted the £650 to go to. It was a fabulous way to help local projects. Although only one project won the pot of funding, I think we all won in our own little way because we met some fabulous people in the audience and made some great contacts that have been really supportive ever since.
What did you most enjoy about the evening itself?
I loved the people in the audience (as well as the other projects that we were up against). I met such good people. It was wonderful to be in a space that was filled with such great people that were there to support us. It was exhilarating in fact. It really gave me a lift and I thought the organisers were just brilliant.
What would be your top tip for someone pitching at our next event?
The best tip I can give is to be honest about what you are doing and speak from the heart. After I had given my talk, I read out a message that one of our players sent to me. My voice was wavering as I read it out. It felt very emotional and I felt tearful. But it helped us connect with the audience because they understood what we were about. We all do these things from the heart so speak from the heart because that's what makes it authentic.
Even though you weren’t awarded the micro-fund, do you still think the experience was worth while?
Oh yes. As I have said, the people we met were just fabulous. We've been in touch with some of them since the event, and have also collaborated with some of them since the event. Aside from that, the organisers of SOUP were so supportive of us in the aftermath. We hadn't won the golden pot but, no matter, they continued to offer us help and support with promoting ourselves afterwards. They just wanted to help us in whatever way they could. To me, that showed what a genuine project SOUP is. In a nutshell, there is a lot of energy at SOUP and just being here allows you to tap into it and be a part of it.
The final thing I would say is that we might not have won the pot on the night but we hit the jackpot afterwards. An unbelievably generous person, who was in the audience that night, contacted me a few days later to offer a substantial donation because he believed in us. He has transformed our club and it all came about through us pitching at SOUP.
What would you say to someone thinking about applying to pitch at Liverpool SOUP?
I would say the same as I have said above. Do it. Be honest. Speak from the heart. And engage with the energy in the room. On that last point, don't worry if you don't win. Just being there is a win because you will find that you pick up supporters that want to help you in all sorts of ways.
A huge thank you to Chris Allen for taking the time to share his experience with us, we're over the moon that Liverpool SOUP had such a positive effect on Ullet Road Church Rebels and we're so excited to see what opportunities future SOUPs bring.
If you or someone you know are thinking of applying to pitch at our next event in February you can complete the application form here or drop us an email if you have any questions (HQ@LiverpoolSOUP.co.uk).