The Big Lunch: from spark to flame.
This week we’re delighted to be hosting a blog by Peter Lefort from the Eden Project. Peter’s blog offers stories and impact of the UK Big Lunch network.The piece reinforces that we should never underestimate the power of food and celebration to create the conditions for building strong and lasting relationships. We hope you enjoy the read as much as we did!
The Big Lunch has taken all sorts of shapes and sizes since we started in 2009. There have been tiny lunches shared between a handful of neighbours on a village street, and there have been festival lunches attended by thousands. What connects each and every Big Lunch, however, is the spark inside the people who take the leap to make something positive happen in their community.
Seven years on, with over 7 million people sharing food at over 90,000 events a year, we have been blown away by the overwhelming response to what is a really simple action. Sharing food with your neighbours is not a new idea, nor does the idea belong to any one group, but it is a powerful idea and an unyieldingly positive one.
In 2013, the Local Government Information Unit published a report on the first 3 years of the Big Lunch. The key findings included:
• 82% of participants felt closer to their neighbours as a result of The Big Lunch;
• 88% of people met new people at the event;
• 81% thought the event had made a positive impact on their community;
• 74% of people felt a stronger sense of community ;
• 82% of participants from 2009-2011 kept in touch with people they had met at previous Lunches.
Impressive statistics, but only statistics. The real power of The Big Lunch can only truly be captured in the stories of those who take part, like Hannah from Hove:
‘The day was a roaring success, with neighbours getting together not only to share a lunch, but also pooling their talents to entertain each other with various activities during the day. The party totally transformed the nature of the street; barely anyone knew anyone else before the party, but afterwards there was such a community spirit — it went without saying that it would not be the last party on the street!
It’s scary to try something new, especially when it’s to do with something personal like your own community. The easy thing is to imagine that you need support from elsewhere, or some secret power which will make things simple. But what our experience in supporting hundreds of thousands of Big Lunches shows us is that it’s precisely the opposite.
It is not providing a new resource, or funding, it is providing an excuse to do something people are already well capable of. Maybe some confidence is needed, or a little help from another Big Luncher, but fundamentally our experience echoes the values of Asset-Based Community Development; we already have what we need.
Our research has shown that The Big Lunch takes place in all types of communities; just as many Big Lunches take place in deprived postcodes as in more affluent ones, and they have an ongoing impact as relationships formed at Big Lunches endure over time and lead to further activities.
So once that spark has been ignited, and people in communities all across the UK have taken their first steps into community action, we are ready to cultivate the spark into a flame. Over a thousand community activists have taken part in our free Community Camps down at the Eden Project in Cornwall, sharing their ideas and inspiration with others just like them and tapping into a network of powerfully ordinary people all over the country.
People like Nicholas from Peckham. After Nicholas got more involved with Eden Project Communities, he says it gave him a tremendous amount of confidence: ‘We were walking quite tentatively, then Eden gave us the support we needed to go forward. I felt like I was ready to go — no one is going to stop me now!’
Again, what works is demonstrating that anyone with a spark can be a local asset, and once someone has recognised their own spark then it is easier to find and reach out to others. Often the best way to convince people of the skills and knowledge they possess is to connect them with people who don’t possess them, but maybe have something to share in return.
The Big Lunch works because it is universally accessible, it doesn’t require anything we don’t already have, but it shows us the value of what we have through the sharing of it. There are many ways to do this, to help others find their value and their spark, and we’d love to hear your ideas of how we can keep the momentum going until every single person feels able to make a difference.
If you would like to find out more about The Big Lunch, visit www.thebiglunch.com, and to read about or apply for the upcoming Big Lunch Extras Camp in February visit www.biglunchextras.com/events/february-community-camp-health-wellbeing-focus. If you have any questions get in touch with Peter via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or @peterlefort on Twitter.