It can be tough to sell such a simple idea. People want to know why we’re asking them to get together with their neighbours. What’s in it for us? Do we want them to raise funds for something? No, we say, we just want you to get to know your neighbours. But why? Why does it matter to us, and why should it matter to you? Our Scotland Country Manager, Emily, has some thoughts on the matter to share with you....
Well here’s where I need to get a bit personal. I can give you the stats about The Big Lunch ’til the cows come home: over 85% of people who take part feel better about where they live, two-thirds make friends they continue to stay in touch with and also go on to do more in their communities. But the real reason people take part in The Big Lunch? Let me tell you.
We’ve recently gained new team members and one of those is our Programme Delivery Manager, Tracey Robbins. Tracey’s background most recently was working for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on the Neighbourhood Approaches to Loneliness Programme. She comes with a deep understanding of what loneliness does to people and why it’s important that we as a society do something about it.
At the most recent Community Camp down at Eden Tracey held a workshop on loneliness. A number of staff attended because we too wanted to know what this stuff was all about, and yes, we wanted to see Tracey in action. But it was personally and profoundly moving for me.
I’ve worked on The Big Lunch for nearly five years. I’m not exaggerating to say I think I have a pretty awesome job. I travel around the country and meet lovely people doing exciting things in their community. The focus of my work is on promoting something entirely positive, and the stories I hear day to day are also positive. So far, so good.
I’m in my thirties, healthy, a mum, and I consider myself to have a group of close friends who I love and trust. But here’s the thing: my friends and family are all far-flung, from Surrey and London to Australia and Mexico. Where I live, I don’t actually have a close network of people I can call on for a coffee or a chat. Skype is great but it takes planning!
During that workshop, where we were asked to describe what loneliness meant for us personally, I realised that the lack of a local network was actually huge for me. And I’d been ignoring it because I was a successful, young(ish) woman, with a great job and a supportive circle. On paper it all looked shiny but, in reality, there are times where I feel, well, isolated. And there’s a bit of shame attached to that. I’m doing well, why can’t I magic a group of trusted people out of the air?
That day I also realised that the reason I work on The Big Lunch is hope. Because I see people brave enough to knock on their neighbours' door and ask them to join the rest of the street for a lunch one afternoon, and I see what that does. It creates friends. It means you no longer say a quick hello to the man at number 22, or nod to the lady walking the spaniel every morning, but you chat to John, and you ask Sarah about her Mum’s health.
That bravery is the reason I stay hopeful for the future. I’m well aware that I’m not in one of the ‘at risk’ groups for isolation, but if I can feel isolated at times, then maybe it affects more of us than we like to imagine? Maybe we all have times where we’d love to pop next door and catch up with another human being. We are, after all, social animals.
I’m about to move to a new town. And this time, I’m not going to leave it. I’ve had my own loneliness highlighted, and what’s more, I’m more than qualified, after five years on the job, to do something about it. As soon as I’ve emptied the last box from the van and had a cuppa, I’m going to pop round to my new neighbours’ houses. And I’m going to ask them if they want to join me for a Big Lunch in June. Because I know it’s something simple and straightforward I can do for myself, and who knows who else might be feeling a similar way?
The Big Lunch is a simple idea, but I truly believe that it can have a profound effect on our well-being. And that’s why I’m having a Big Lunch this year.
There are times where I feel, well, isolated. And there’s a bit of shame attached to that. I’m doing well, why can’t I magic a group of trusted people out of the air?