The inspiring people behind our IVAR research report

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In 2021, we worked with the Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR) to create a report on The Big Lunch's impact and legacy. The results were enlightening, featuring wonderful stories from inspirational communities around the UK. 

Thank you to Vita Terry, Principal Researcher at IVAR, and Leonie Ramondt, Voluntary Coordinator at Hub on the Hill, for providing this foreword and for sharing their stories.

Foreword by Vita:

The Big Lunch is an annual event held on the first weekend of June in streets and green spaces around the UK. Collectively, these events bring millions of people together to share a meal with their neighbours and to get to know their community. In 2021, IVAR was commissioned by Eden Project to research the legacy of The Big Lunch programme and explore to what extent it did achieve community connectivity.

Communities involved in the Big Lunch differ in size, make-up and their existing levels of cohesion, so their approaches, activities and results will vary. Yet, from this work, we’ve come to better understand the role and lasting impact of coordinated activity in nurturing ties within a local area – regardless of their starting point. From our learning, we hope to inspire others working in and with their communities to create change.

Mount Pleasant, Swansea, was one of the case studies for this research and we have asked people who took part to share their experiences on the benefits of running Big Lunches to help others who are thinking about holding future community events. We worked alongside Leonie Ramondt (Hub on the Hill Voluntary Coordinator) who tells their story and helps bring the learning to life.”

Leonie's Hub on the Hill story (Mount Pleasant, Swansea)

Leonie Ramondt (far right) is a Voluntary Coordinator at Hub on the Hill and is Lead Organiser of Mount Pleasant Big Lunches

Mount Pleasant is not an affluent area, but I would describe it as being vibrant and diverse, as well as welcoming and rich in creative, community activity. When I moved there in 2016, community activity seemed to take place ‘below the radar’. In my search for community activities, I found a small group of volunteers looking after the Rosehill Quarry Community Park and several individuals working to develop communal growing spaces.

“There's lots of people who are like community activists - people in the community who are very creative and very active in leading in community initiatives. They want to see their community thrive, flourish, and are proactive in trying to make it a really welcoming place. ” (- Big Lunch volunteer, Mount Pleasant,)

Mount Pleasant Big Lunch

Connecting with others

Local residents’ concerns about anti-social behaviour were particularly evident on the Mount Pleasant Facebook page, where, in those days, it was rare to find positive news. In an effort to address vandalism and county lines activity that was escalating in the area, a residents meeting was organised with local councillors, community police and members of the community meeting at the local school. Various people expressed a need for a hub where we could easily come together. A local housing association recognised that it is harder for anti-social behaviour to thrive in an area where there is a lot of community activity. They therefore provided us an apartment, like a community living room, which we subsequently named Hub on the Hill.

Our Big Lunch activities offered a great opportunity to bring people together from different cultures, by sharing food, music, and space to have fun together. Furthermore, people met neighbours from beyond their own streets, as they were encouraged to join each other’s Big Lunch events – not only in two of our bigger parks but also at our various Play Street events. With face painting, circus performances, a pizza making afternoon and even a mad hatter’s tea party, we offered something for everyone!

These events really helped to bring together our wonderful diverse community. Sharing food and providing kids play opportunities is a wonderful way to connect with people, especially our refugee and asylum seeker families and local students who would otherwise not have had a reason to stop and talk when passing on the street:

“People became connected, who wouldn't have connected otherwise. I think the fact that it was outdoors, and not inside, made it feel safer for people because it's a bigger space; it’s less intimidating. ” (- Big Lunch volunteer, Mount Pleasant)

Leading to other initiatives

Setting up and running Big Lunch activities is a collective effort, involving the passion, energy and skills of lots of residents. They are, therefore, an important demonstration to others of the power of communities coming together and what this can achieve. For example, in Mount Pleasant, as a result of our Big Lunch activities (and the with the support of our local area co-ordinator), the local housing association has trusted the community to run the Hub on the Hill safely and effectively.

Furthermore, the Hub on the Hill now provides the organisational umbrella for Mount Pleasant Community ebikes, as well as for the Primrose Hill Community Park. The latter is undergoing significant transformation as a community orchard and creative events space.

The Big Lunch as a helpful motivator!

For those of you wanting to bring your local community together and thinking about holding future community events, doing this as part of a wider national programme, such as The Big Lunch, is really helpful. Connecting community events to the Big Lunch creates a perfect excuse to knock on your neighbour’s door. Working together to put on celebratory activities for the community dissolves barriers easily and naturally. The Big Lunch also offers additional support, resources and tips on how to do this and provides a context to continue over time. After a few years of practice, we’re getting really good at it and more creative too!

“[The Big Lunch] is like a certain alibi, certainly a catalyst. It is easy to not get around to things when there is not a specific date. If it is part of a national initiative, it is like yeah, we are all doing it – which normalises it, encourages it and really supports it.” (- Big Lunch volunteer, Mount Pleasant)

 

To read more about the Big Lunch and explore the legacy and benefits of community activity, please read the report.

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