StreetSmart was set up in 1998 by two ethically-minded London business people, William Sieghart, Chairman of StreetSmart, founder of Forward Worldwide, and Mary-Lou Sturridge, then director of The Groucho Club, now hotelier. The idea was simple. During November and December in the run-up to Christmas, many people go out to eat in restaurants and celebrate the spirit of the holidays; so wouldn’t it be great if we could harness just a little of that “good cheer” and raise money for worthy charities at the same time as people were enjoying a nice meal out?

So StreetSmart was born. We decided to make StreetSmart a fundraising charity. In other words, it raises money and then distributes it directly to the actual charities, hostels and projects that have the experience and facilities to help adults and children who are living on the streets, are homeless and want to get back on their feet. The money goes to charities providing for both basic needs and to those supplying the skills and resources needed to help in the long-term.

Since its launch 18 years ago, we’ve been committed to the simple concept that every penny raised by a restaurant should go towards supporting charities in its local area. And with over 20 different regions across the UK participating each Christmas, making an average total of 500 restaurants, that’s a lot of help going directly to those who need it.

“We’ve been doing [StreetSmart] since the beginning and usually raise £3,000 in the two months,’ says Ruth Rogers, owner of the River Café in Fulham, London. “The charity has just kept growing and has become a bit of a family tree amongst restaurateurs in London.”

The River Café is one of the many restaurants in West London, such as Vinoteca, raising money for charities in this area. Glass Door, previously known as West London Churches, is grateful for their support. Last year, the charity were able to help 122 people into stable accommodation, 162 into work and a further 1,000 vulnerable people who accessed their drop-in-centre.

The same happens across the country. Take Manchester, for example. Last year, restaurants such as The Lowry, The Parlour, Salvi’s, Urban Cookhouse and Tariff & Dale helped to raise £16,000 for social exclusion and homelessness projects across their city. All of this went towards supporting a diverse range of projects run by charities such as Barnabus, The Booth Centre, Wellspring and Acting on Impulse, who offer socially marginalised individuals the opportunity to take part in a staged theatre production or participate in a high-quality, short film.

‘StreetSmart provides a real alternative to offering ‘hand-outs’, says Richard Pendlebury, MBE of Emmaus, the homeless charity, in Bristol. ‘It grants these most marginalized members of society the gift of a real opportunity to regain control over their lives.’

Tackling homelessness across the country isn’t an easy issue. In the last five years, the number of rough sleepers in the UK has risen by 102%. And as if this isn’t shocking enough, some cities have it disproportionately worse than others: the number of rough sleepers in Manchester and Cornwall both increased by 63% in 2015, whilst Bristol experienced an increase of 137% (Homeless Link).

We started supporting St Mungo’s Broadway in St Judes, Bristol, this year. Many of the vulnerable people they support are in the process of recovering from trauma, substance abuse and mental health issues. So far, they’ve been able to help 132 people graduate across over 30 different courses – a great success.

It’s this localised support that makes each restaurant’s participation so valuable to its community. So when you serve your customers this Christmas, you know that together you’ll be helping to put food on someone else’s table, too – perhaps even just round the corner.