When our Welsh Country Manager, Gwion, turned onto a residential street in East Cardiff hoping to catch the tail end of their very first Big Lunch, he was quickly greeted by a group of small children. When he asked them to point him in the direction of the organiser, the tallest boy in the group then stepped forward. 'Yes, that's me,' he said. 'I'm Marcus. Come meet the rest of my street.' It turns out Gwion had just met one of the youngest Big Lunchers ever, 12-year-old Marcus Aitken.
Marcus was inspired to organise a Big Lunch after visiting the Eden Project with his mum, Sarah, last year. After a week of nagging he persuaded his Mum to register for The Big Lunch pack and after that, he never looked back. He organised everything himself, from inviting his neighbours and arranging the food, to planning activities for the children who live on the street. Marcus decided to organise a Big Lunch after a visit to the Eden Project with his mum:
When we were there I saw a big display about The Big Lunch and everyone in the photos looked so happy — I wanted my street to look like that!
Almost every neighbour attended Marcus’ Big Lunch in 2014 and in true Big Lunch style everyone brought something to help get the party started, from sandwiches and cakes to a barbeque and gazebo. Sarah called the council to get permission to close the road for the day and Marcus made sure everyone moved their cars on the day itself.
His best memory from last year is 'Drawing pictures on the road in chalk with all the other kids and having our pictures taken lying in the middle of the street'. He loved it so much he ate his breakfast out on the street the next morning!
Getting everyone together has had a lasting effect on the sense of community in the area. His mum Sarah said, 'We’d moved in 18 months previously and we’d never had anything like it in the street before. Everyone was so happy and grateful — I don’t think Marcus realised how touched they all were. One of the older ladies even gave him a card with a five-pound note inside to say thank you.'
Lots of the families have very young children so they started up a toddlers group after meeting at Marcus’ Big Lunch. Since then we’ve got to know people in the street a lot better and I know there are lots of doors I could knock on if I needed help, which is nice for a single mum. One family even comes in every day to check on our puppy while I’m at work!
As we announced last week, Marcus was one of eight Big Lunchers to attend lunch with our Patron, the Duchess of Cornwall, at Clarence House and it is safe to say he made quite an impression. As well as presenting Marcus with his community award, Her Royal Highness gave Marcus a quick tour upstairs at Clarence House and also promised to send a prize for the raffle he is organising to raise money for a bouncy castle for this year’s Big Lunch.
Marcus’ story has really inspired us all, not just because of his young age, but because of his positivity and resourcefulness and his simple aim of 'meeting all our neighbours and making new friends'. Life shouldn’t have to be any more complicated than that.
If you're inspired by Marcus' story and want to get to know your neighbourhood, why not plan a Big Lunch yourself? We've go everything you need to get started in our guide to The Big Lunch.
I saw a big display about The Big Lunch and everyone in the photos looked so happy — I wanted my street to look like that!