‘If I had put too much thought into this, it wouldn't have happened’
Irish Lives: Twist soup kitchens are now in seven Irish towns
Olliver Williams: “Like everyone else, I’ve experienced hard times. And you don’t have to look too hard to see that the most vulnerable in our society are being hit the hardest by the economic crisis.” Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy
On Monday, the seventh Twist Soup Kitchen will open in Ennis, Co Clare. The first opened on the docks in Galway 14 months ago – the idea of Oliver Williams (47), a Galway man who lives in Loughrea.
Williams turns up more than half an hour late for our interview, offering apologies. Even before he sits down, the reason for his lateness becomes obvious: his phone is beeping and ringing non-stop. It’s Williams’ own personal number that is listed as the contact for Twist Soup Kitchens, and already that morning, there have been several calls from members of the public, some seeking help and others offering it, by way of food donations.
“When I opened the first soup kitchen, it was thought up in a week, and opened in a week. If I had put too much thought into it, it would never have happened,” he says. That first kitchen has since closed, and a new one will open in the city’s Wood Quay in three weeks, after Williams secured a five-year lease in the premises of a former takeaway.
There are currently five other Twist centres in operation – in Athlone, Roscommon, Sligo, Tuam, and Loughrea. “In the existing premises, we’re averaging about 2,500 customers a week, accessing food.”
Their model varies, according to the type of premises they can find. Roscommon has a restaurant and charity shop; Sligo has both, but in different locations; Tuam is a charity shop that hands out food parcels on request. Galway will operate on a food take-away basis. Drogheda will open in September.
Williams left school at 15, and headed for London, seeking work as a panel beater. “There was no plan at all,” he admits. “I had no family there, and no savings.” About two months after arriving, he spent three nights in the Centrepoint Shelter, an experience that has stayed with him. “I was only there three days, but for some people, three days could become three years.”
After 10 years he returned to Galway and opened a garage. He also got a pilot’s licence. During the boom, he flew developers and auctioneers around the country to inspect sites and properties, for €600 an hour. “When the property boom collapsed, my helicopter business collapsed too.” The helicopter was sold off to Russia.
“Like everyone else, I’ve experienced hard times,” Williams says. “And you don’t have to look too hard to see that the most vulnerable in our society are being hit the hardest by the economic crisis.”
He didn’t consult with anyone from the charity sector prior to setting up the first ad-hoc kitchen on Galway’s docks. “There’s no great design in business to what I do,” he says simply. “But none of it would happen without volunteers, and the three or so key volunteers at each kitchen. Each centre has about 10 volunteers.” What happens when those people move on? “So far, the key people have stayed. And there is no shortage of people offering to volunteer.”