Wetherspoons has an app that allows customers to skip queuing at the bar to order food and drink. It also means you can play pranks, sending orders of peas or Fruit Shoots to any table of your choice at one of around 900 ’Spoons across the UK.
Chris Illman from Fareham formulated Wetherspoons The Game! and founded a page for it on Facebook. The idea is simple: people post a picture of themselves and their table number and wait for fellow group members to send them stuff – anything at all. Last week’s players included Tiffany turning 21 at The Swan in Weymouth, a hen party at The Panniers in Barnstaple and someone celebrating the loss of their virginity, allegedly, at The Manor House in Royston.
But among the rowdy revellers was a post from The Standing Ordr in Southampton which asked people to donate food that would be distributed to people rough sleeping nearby.
I always said I wanted someone to take a homeless person into a Wetherspoons and post on their behalf.
“The idea behind the game is gifting others and receiving in return,” explains Illman. “So many people comment on how great it is to help others – obviously we get a few chancers that just want to receive, but they’re soon found out by the group and stop getting sent stuff – I always said I wanted someone to take a homeless person into a Wetherspoons and post on their behalf. A member called Niamh Pickle took it one step further. We ran a competition on the page she won. But she decided she wanted to feed the homeless with the money. That’s where the Wetherspoons The Game! Homeless Feeds were born.”
That night in Salisbury, £260 of food and (non-alcoholic) drinks were bought by strangers from all over the UK and internationally. The second Feed in Southampton received £418 of food and drink, including fish, chips, chicken wings and wraps, nuts, more than 30 pizzas and a lasagne.
“The reaction was overwhelming!” Illman says. “Everyone is just so positive and willing to help. I’d love to mention the staff at The King’s Head Inn, Salisbury and The Standing Order, Southampton, they were all so amazing and helpful.”
The Big Issue magazine is a social enterprise, a business that reinvests its profits in helping others who are homeless, at risk of homelessness, or whose lives are blighted by poverty.
The Wetherspoons chain is aware of the initiative but is not actively involved. “As I understand it one individual [that would be Illman] started this and we applaud his efforts,” says Wetherspoons spokesman Eddie Gershon. “The individual has liaised directly with the specific pub manager and we are happy for the parties to work with each other, though we would not get involved directly.”
In Southampton, Illman and some friends posted their table number on the Facebook group, which has more than 6,000 members, asking them to donate items like pizzas and canned or bottled drinks that are easy to package. They then loaded the food into their car and drove around handing them out.
“Every person we feed we like to give a hot meal, some snacks and a drink or two,” says Illman. “In Southampton, we managed to make the pub sell out of pizzas, so many were ordered!
“We’re hoping to make it a monthly event and hit a different area each time. There is already talk of Basingstoke, Portsmouth or Edinburgh being the next location.”
Clearly there shouldn’t be people sleeping on the streets going hungry. But while support services are playing catch-up, the Wetherspoons Game is showing that people can make a difference using new technology in an innovative way to crowdfund.
“There is so much greed out there today that it is so nice and humbling to see how much people want to help others,” Illman adds. “I’ll be the first to admit, once the orders start coming in I get a lump in my throat. Seeing the positivity and happiness is such a massive spirit-lifter.
“Everyone wants to help in some way, but not everyone has the means or know-how to do so. It’s a lot easier to have someone there doing it for them and they can contribute towards it. Maybe more education is needed for people to find other ways of helping as well. People have busy lives, not everyone is in a position to help but that does not mean the willingness is not there.
“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank every single person on that group, because if it wasn’t for them none of this would be possible!”