Royal Voluntary Service has a long history of feeding the nation; in fact, almost 80 years’ worth of experience, starting out by organising canteens and tea bars for service personnel and civilians of any age during World War Two. Since then, food and companionship have been a mainstay of communities up and down the country, whether through catering in hospitals or through their network of lunch and social clubs where older people can enjoy a meal in company.
See how MasterChef food critic William Sitwell got on when he visited a Royal Voluntery Service lunch club in Rickmandsworth.
At Eden Project Communities, we know the power of sharing a meal and the connections that can be made by cooking and eating together: we see it every year at the thousands of Big Lunches that take place across the UK. Research tells us older people eat more when they are with others, and eating in company also helps people feel more connected and enables them to rekindle old friendships or develop new ones. But for many, cooking a fresh meal and sharing it with someone may not happen as much as it used to.
That’s where social dining clubs come in: they bring volunteers together to offer meals to older people in communities, and can take many forms: traditional lunch clubs, where an army of volunteers cook together, or a small, cosy event, which is what Simone and Yvonne do at their social dining Share Club. Two friends from Cheshire, they wanted to help combat social isolation by focusing on getting healthy, home-cooked meals back on the tables of older people in their community.
Hearing about The Big Lunch, and knowing from their own experience that making friends is easier when there’s a good brew and some cake involved, Simone and Yvonne came up with Share Club. They are all about ‘matching’ people – ideally an older person who struggles with social isolation, with someone local – to get-together once a week and enjoy a freshly cooked meal.
Simone hopes Share Clubs will go beyond simply providing food to older people by facilitating lasting intergenerational connections between the Share Clubbers. Our ability to connect over food is no secret, but using meals to meet the social, as well as nutritional needs of older people, is a pretty inspired initiative. See what they're up to via their Facebook page.
If you think you can help in your local community, or want to find out more about our social dining clubs, visit their website. And if you want to bring your community together but you’re not sure where to start, hosting a Big Lunch in your neighbourhood is a brilliant way to begin.
And remember, even the seemingly smallest of actions can make a big difference to someone who is feeling isolated, lonely or just a bit down. If you know there is an older person on your street who doesn’t get out much, try knocking on their door and inviting them round for a cup of tea. After all, who doesn’t love a cuppa?!