The Big Lunch, a community event conceived by the Eden project and supported by the National Lottery, Iceland and Food Warehouse, is underway across Northern Ireland alongside the easing of lockdown restrictions.
Providing a forum for people to come together to meet, greet, share food and fun, The Big Lunch aims to create a sense of belonging, a celebration of positivity and pride in our areas.
Kicked off in early June, celebrations got under way in East Belfast when a group of residents enjoyed their launch and Big Lunch of Reid Street’s Rainbow Alley. The urban garden alleyway running between two streets was created by local ladies Joanne Boal and Caroline Turkington and their neighbours and is filled with apple trees, fruit bushes, vegetables and plants.
“During lockdown it has proven to be a great place for people to sit and socialise safely outdoors especially as a lot of us don’t have gardens we are able to use,” said Turkington. “We’ve created planters where people can grow their own fruit and veg, along with flowers and plants and today was a lovely way to share and benefit from everyone’s involvement.”
Boal said: "Our Big Lunch has been a day of fun and surprises. We were confused when a car stopped right beside the food table and the driver started to offload large pots; it was an unexpected donation of some amazing Indian food from a young man who had recently moved into the street, Shojol Ahmed, who also happens to be a chef in a local Indian restaurant.
“People are so kind from neighbours to local businesses and we've all really loved the opportunity to meet each other and spend time together especially after the recent months which were tough on everyone."
Kathy Black, who runs a community kitchen at Unit T in Newcastle, said: “I thought the easiest way for people to connect with the community was through food. We have been doing community lunches, talking about the things we would like for the area, getting inspiration and finding solutions – so our Big Lunch really was a lunch with a purpose as we enjoyed cleaning up the beach beforehand and making it look so much better.”
Wenda Gray from Carrickfergus said: “I thought I would take the bull by the horns and host a Big Lunch myself. I invited ‘all the single ladies’ in the area to come along to my back garden.
“I just took the dog out for a walk and knocked on their door to tell them what I was doing and a bit about the Eden Project and asked if they would be interested. They all said yes. I then issued an invitation with the date and time – it was that easy."
Grainne McCloskey, NI manager, The Big Lunch, said: “After more than a year in lockdown The Big Lunch is the perfect opportunity to celebrate within our local areas and to get to know more of our neighbours.
“This year there is an appetite not just to reconnect where we live but also the desire to do something to hold onto the community spirit that many of us experienced during lockdown.
“Throughout June and into July as part of #MonthofCommunity, we have been encouraging people to do something, no matter how small and to enjoy sharing food al fresco whilst being mindful of covid safety.”
The Big Lunch is an official partner of The Queen's Platinum Jubilee celebrations in 2022. Find out how you can make plans for next year to celebrate community spirit locally at www.TheBigLunch.com