Belfast Telegraph

Murdered MP Cox the inspiration as neighbours across Northern Ireland enjoy Big Lunch

By Rachel Martin

A trek across the UK in memory of murdered MP Jo Cox and the sense of community she so passionately worked for has ended with a street feast in Belfast.

Thousands of people across Northern Ireland took part in the ninth Big Lunch, the UK's annual get-together for neighbours, yesterday.

Events took place across the province, from Belfast to Londonderry, Killyleagh to Coleraine.

One of the largest was held in the Holyland in south Belfast, where more than 400 people came together for a street party.

The special event also celebrated the end of The Great Big Walk - a 684-mile trek across the UK in memory of Cox on the first anniversary of her murder.

The Labour MP, who famously said "we have more in common than that which divides us", was shot and stabbed in Birstall, West Yorkshire, by far-Right fanatic Thomas Mair.

The Eden Project initiative (which was funded by the National Lottery) saw five teams walk from Batley in Yorkshire - Ms Cox's constituency - to five corners of the UK: London, Cornwall, Cardiff, Belfast and Glasgow.

The Northern Ireland walk leaders - Enniskillen accountant Olivia Cosgrove and Omagh-born life coach Noel Johnston - ended their three-week adventure at the Holyland Big Lunch, stopping on the way to meet people behind some of the province's best community projects.

En route, the team stopped off at a swimming club in Portrush, an enterprise organisation in Larne, a 'men's shed' group in Armagh, and a garage that had been converted into a community hub in Millisle, among many others.

Ms Cosgrove said the ethos behind the Big Lunch fitted perfectly with what Ms Cox had tried to achieve as an MP.

Her family set up The Great Get Together to celebrate her life and all that she stood for.

Ms Cosgrove said: "We wanted to show people being able to celebrate what we have in common rather than what divides them.

"We walked to Liverpool and then we did a big lap of Northern Ireland.

"What we are really trying to do is to shine a light on the different communities we walk to and celebrate what local people are up to - people you would otherwise see as ordinary, but doing extraordinary things.

"We want to really beat the drum and tell others: look, this is going on in your own community.

"Just get your head out of the TV, get off the sofa and get out the door because there is stuff happening.

"And if there's not stuff happening, be the catalyst, don't be afraid, and start something." The Holyland Big Lunch was organised by City Church Belfast; Wildflower Alley, a community initiative to brighten up the alleyways of the area, and the NI Muslim Family Association, to celebrate what is Northern Ireland's most diverse community.

Volunteers from more than 20 nationalities were involved in putting on the super-sized spread which included scones, muffins, buns, paella and an array of curries.

The fusion of culture and food saw revellers soak up the sun as they ate, listened to a harpist and took in the energy of a Chinese dragon dance led by local residents, while others queued up to have a go at getting their own Indian-inspired henna body art applied.

Organisers had been prepared for a turnout of around 300 people, but more than 400 were served lunch as temperatures soared.

Retired administration worker Florence Patterson from Newtownbreda said she had found herself in the middle of her second Big Lunch event.

Her first was on a train between Belfast and Derry.

She said: "I enjoy them - I always find I go out thinking I'll not know anyone and I'll either meet someone new or see at least one familiar face."

Joan Vaughan, operations manager at City Church, was among those helping to serve the lunches.

She said: "We wanted to do something that would celebrate diversity.

"Our cafe is called Common Grounds, so it's something which has been part of our ethos for a long time."

Belfast Telegraph


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