30 March 2017

Big Lunches are great fun but we know taking the first steps toward organising one can be a little daunting: even our own team members have battled with nerves in the run up to their Big Lunches. Here, our Content Officer Lisa chats about Big Lunch procrastination and anxiety, but, ultimately, how she felt the fear and did it anyway.

The Eden Project Communities team gathered on a field.

Lisa, front row, second from right, with the Eden Project Communities team

I like to think I’m a kind, thoughtful, and occasionally funny person; I enjoy cooking, baking and eating food, but this is never something I would have considered doing with my neighbours. Whilst I consider myself relatively outgoing, I’m slightly awkward around people that I don’t know and I’m terrible at making small talk.

My own Big Lunch journey started with a discussion on the barriers people might experience when organising a Big Lunch. Personally, I could think of loads. Then I listened to myself and felt a little bit ashamed. I’ve been at Eden for eight years, part of The Big Lunch team for over three and, there I was, rattling off every excuse in the book as to why I thought organising a Big Lunch was too difficult and, ultimately, why I still hadn’t done it.

So, at a table full of team members, I committed to doing a Big Lunch. I felt brave, proud and caught up in a moment of I CAN do this! I went home and told my husband that this year our crescent was having its very own Big Lunch. It took a few days before the reality kicked in – that I was actually going to have to talk to my neighbours.

I went into my default setting of denial for several weeks. Each evening my husband would ask if I had spoken to anyone, invited anyone or done anything, and each evening I had the same response, ‘Not yet, I’ll do it tomorrow.’ It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do it; it was more that I was paralysed by my fear of rejection, embarrassment and worry that the very activity I hoped would bring people together might create a greater divide. I spoke to no-one in my street, but waved furiously as though that may break the ice. I hoped I was being super friendly, but imagine I was probably just coming across as a little strange…

Two weeks before the official Big Lunch date I still hadn’t done anything, but I knew I had to start somewhere. While I was turning my car around a neighbour that I know stepped into her front garden. I casually wound down the window and asked whether she would be interested in a BBQ with all the neighbours on June 12. She thought it was a lovely idea. In my mind that was it, I’d done it! I texted my husband, ‘Maureen is free – The Big Lunch is ON’.

With just 6 days to go, I hand wrote invites for each of our neighbours (on small notelets with recipes on, I was really quite pleased with myself). Everyone was invited to our front garden for a BBQ. I asked that they each bring a dish, or something to share and told them I was looking forward to getting to know everyone better.

Later that night, when it was far too late to knock on any doors (and talk to anyone), I secretly dropped the invites into letterboxes. I crept around my neighbourhood like I had something to hide and was planning something to be ashamed of. How bizarre that an act of kindness could make me feel so concerned about what people would think about me? I didn’t sleep that night: what if my neighbours thought we were weird? I didn’t sleep again the next night, what if nobody came?

Saturday morning, the day before The Big Lunch, and I knew I was going to have to actually speak to my neighbours. On my way out for a surf, I spied a neighbour I had never spoken to. I dug deep, mustered all my courage, and ran over to her, introducing myself as the person responsible for the invite while thrusting my hand out for her to shake. Her response made me glow. She thought it was a wonderful idea and said my invite had made their week. They were new to the neighbourhood and couldn’t wait to meet everyone. They were coming! I literally danced on the spot!

The morning of our Big BBQ my husband tidied the garden while I worried about who would come, whether there would be enough food, what if nobody spoke to each other, and what if it was a disaster?!

As neighbours started trickling in, there was an initial air of caution and uncertainty and even a little awkwardness, as polite conversations began and food was exchanged. 45 minutes later we had a front garden full of chatter and laughter with tables full of food. People brought plates, glasses, spoons, napkins and even an extra table – everyone contributed. There were twelve of us altogether, so tiny numbers, but I live in a tiny place. As conversations flowed and people relaxed we had discussions about local neighbourhood annoyances, it was a safe environment for us to talk without things becoming confrontational or anyone feeling singled out.

Four hours later, people hugged as they said goodbye, and as they carried things home for each other they made promises to catch up again soon and more often.
Our Big Lunch didn’t have any decorations, games or fancy dress and we didn’t close our road. It wasn’t complicated, it was simple; we shared food and we shared stories, we made friends and we made connections.
It felt incredible.

If you're thinking about getting involved with The Big Lunch, get your free starter pack here!

I committed to doing a Big Lunch. I felt brave, proud and caught up in a moment of I CAN do this!