15 June 2017

On the 8th of June – which marked the 11th day of The Great Big Walk – Team Northern Ireland’s, Noel and Olivia, ambled into Farland Way, Derry to join the welcoming folk at Habinteg Housing Association in celebrating their 40th birthday. Also attending, was the Deputy Mayor of Derry City & Strabane, John Boyle along with many shining happy faces from the neighbourhood.

Photo of Team Norther Ireland's Noel, standing with staff from Habinteg Housing Association and the Deputy Mayor of Derry City & Strabane, with their 40th birthday cake.

The warm and dedicated people at Habinteg are on a mission to help residents live well by offering them a variety of services relating to housing. In addition to their 40th celebration, one of their prized annual events, is a themed Big Lunch, bringing members of the community – big and small – closer together, enhancing their spirits and fostering a feeling of warmth and safety.

To add to the fun, each year a theme is decided upon. Last year’s theme was Alice in Wonderland (pictured), and this year their Big Lunch theme is American Barn Dance and will be held on the 4th of June.

How it all came about…

Habinteg’s long-standing community worker, Margaret Cunningham, came up with the idea several years ago of hosting an annual get together that would gather as many people as possible from the surrounding neighbourhoods. When asked what ignited this idea, Margaret said:

‘A number of years ago I became aware of a lady who lived alone and was so lonely. She had no family calling. When I met Grainne McCloskey and she spoke so passionately about The Big Lunch, I thought “that sounds perfect for my street.”’

So, Margaret approached the COSY Club (Citizens of Senior Years) and planted the seed of holding a day of coming together for ‘sharing and caring’.

Thankfully, the idea was accepted, because the first Big Lunch was a huge success with plenty of laughter, smiles, conversations and sharing between people who had never met. Margaret described it as ‘heart-warming’. The after-effects of this day were resounding. People kept asking when the next one would be.

‘The comments were plentiful and so complimentary. Children started to knock at the door and ask me out to play. I found this so endearing.’

Today their Big Lunch celebration is the biggest event in their calendar, with more and more people attending each year and Margaret has noticed how neighbours are happier, friendlier and helping each other out more.

All this success however, has not come without its challenges, their biggest one being, finding the space to hold their annual Big Lunch! But they will surely find a way because they’ve seen and felt the positive changes in their community:

  • Neighbours reaching out and helping one another
  • Respect between people of different ages
  • A decline in anti-social behaviour

These are some of the reasons that they will keep on holding their Big Lunches, in hopes that more and more people will come along and join in the community fun! That’s what it’s all about!

When asked what advice she’d give others who want to hold a Big Lunch, Margaret said:

‘Just do it. Why wait?’

 

For help and resources on organising your own Big Lunch, visit The Big Lunch page. 

‘A number of years ago I became aware of a lady who lived alone and was so lonely. She had no family calling. When I met Grainne McCloskey and she spoke so passionately about The Big Lunch, I thought “that sounds perfect for my street.”’