6 July 2022

We’ve been carrying out research into the impact of The Big Lunch every year since it started in 2009. But last year, we decided to delve a little deeper and look at the longer-term legacy.

We know that The Big Lunch has an immediate and positive effect, as it helps people of all different backgrounds meet and gain a greater sense of belonging. But how does this sense of connection and community wellbeing develop and what further activity does The Big Lunch encourage?

Children at a Big Lunch

We commissioned the Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR) to carry out research and the results are insightful.

The report shows how Big Lunch events have become an important part of local community calendars, contributing over time to lasting, positive changes in neighbourhoods across the UK and also providing a catalyst for further collaborative action.

Sparking place-based connections

The premise of The Big Lunch has always been simple: get people to stop and enjoy lunch with their neighbours once a year, safe in the knowledge that food is a great connector.

“Food … naturally brings us together, as human beings, to give us that wellbeing and resilience. At the same time, it can unlock that conversation about your place and where the issues are, and where the opportunities are.”

But The Big Lunch is not just about bringing people together through food, it’s also about connecting them in a different way with the place in which they live. This happens informally through conversations with neighbours, at larger events through interaction with information stalls for local services and activities, through showcasing local talent or simply by decorating the space enabling people to see their community in a different light.

Getting involved helps participants to:

  • Get to know their area;
  • See it in a new and often more positive light;
  • Notice things that need doing - like where buildings need repainting or rubbish needs clearing

The Big Lunch acts as a simple but powerful catalyst for community building, helping connect the passion, energy and skills of volunteers wanting to make positive changes where they live.

Volunteering

Informal local volunteering is vital to The Big Lunch, with many areas relying on community members to organise events. The beauty of this volunteering opportunity is that roles are determined according to the talents, skills and interests of volunteers – making it all the more meaningful and enjoyable.  It helps them gain a sense of purpose, an understanding of their ‘role’ in the local community and a chance to showcase their skills.

“It made me feel useful.. knowing that I had helped somebody, even if in a small way”

Volunteers enjoy feeling part of something bigger and many go on to volunteer for other local charities and initiatives, such as food banks. Read Leonie's story to meet some of the inspiring people behind the report.

A space to practise skills

The Big Lunch is just one part of Eden Project Communities. Our work also includes support and resources via a UK-wide network, community development team and year-round events programme.

The research shows how this link allows Big Lunchers to build and hone their community leadership skills. For example, helping them learn how to work with the community to plan and hold an event, in an inclusive way, how to delegate and involve stakeholders, valuing their skills, knowledge and expertise.

Collaborative working

The Big Lunch encourages collaborative working – helping strengthen existing relationships and build new ones. Local organisations, groups and businesses join forces in lots of ways, including working together to design and deliver the event, engage volunteers, source a venue, host stalls and activities and fundraise.

The Big Lunch also helps to break down barriers to getting support from local councils – as organisers learn who to go to get help with things like road closures. It changes the view of local authorities working for communities to working with them. The power dynamics shift and communities are empowered.

Conclusions

The report shows that The Big Lunch helps to create and sustain thriving communities by providing:

  • An accessible and inclusive starting point for residents to meet, learn about their area and further opportunities
  • A tool to help overcome local divisions or a lack of cohesion
  • An opportunity to see local area in a more positive light, leading to greater pride and investment.
  • A safe and inclusive space for residents to practise community leadership skills

Read the full report

Find out more about one of the communities behind the research here. And if you're feeling inspired, find out more about The Big Lunch for organisations and groups or get a free Big Lunch pack and start planning an event for your community!

“It made me feel useful.. knowing that I had helped somebody, even if in a small way”