Encouraging community cohesion through Big Lunches

Croydon is a south London borough and one of the largest in the capital, with a diverse population of more than 350,000.

Communities in Croydon have been holding events since the first Big Lunch in 2009 and the council has always been supportive, with The Big Lunch first appearing in its three year Stronger Community Strategy in 2011.

Part of the annual calendar

Yvonne Gaye, senior community and voluntary sector officer at the London Borough of Croydon told us how the council formalised its support of The Big Lunch after the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012.

She explains:

“It was such a joy to see cohesion happening in our borough – through something as simple as residents getting together to hold Big Lunch events. We got behind the 2012 street parties because of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, but now it’s become an important part of our annual calendar. Residents wanted it to continue and so do we, as we know that Big Lunches have the power to bring diverse groups of people together - which supports our community cohesion strategy.”

Beverly Warner, organiser of the Broom Road Big Lunch feels hosting such events for local residents is a real way of engaging and bringing the community together. She said:

“The ease of the council providing the assistance to enable us to deliver a fantastic event for the local community is also an added bonus. This is an event our residents really look forward to being part of.”

Council support for The Big Lunch

  • Road closures – free for residents holding events over The Big Lunch weekend, with a simple form and clear guidance online. All road closure requests are included in one traffic management order to reduce costs to Big Lunch organisers
  • Grants – three types of grant were made available, ranging from £50 to £5,000 - for larger events, organised by registered community groups or organisations
  • Ambassadors – The Mayor of Croydon attends as many events as possible
  • PR and Communications – Croydon’s press and communication teams promote The Big Lunch widely. In 2019, they took a targeted approach to encourage Big Lunches in less engaged areas
  • Event support (parks and green spaces) – To make sure anyone can take part, regardless of where they live, the council encourage residents to hold events in parks and green spaces and provide events assistance

The Big Impact

Supporting The Big Lunch helps the council reach a number of its objectives. Croydon have seen how community gatherings are encouraging neighbours to look out for each other, as well as opening avenues for neighbours to help the less able.

As such, they explain that The Big Lunch promotes the Equality Act’s duty to foster good community relations and promote understanding – of which a major part of the approach is to promote a ‘clear sense of shared aspirations and values, which focuses on what we have in common rather than our differences’.

The Numbers

  • An average of 60-80 street parties held annually for The Big Lunch, with the most in 2017
  • The success of The Big Lunch in Croydon has meant the council has built up a contact list of 700 email addresses who all receive updates on when the popular annual event is taking place

Croydon's top tips for councils

  1. Start promotion of event as early as possible
  2. Highlight incentives such as waived fees
  3. Make funding streams available if possible
  4. Ensure forms are easy and simple to complete
  5. Encourage the local mayor to attend some of the events