Spotlight on: Tom – The Big Lunch

Hear from Tom, one of our Newham guardians, about his experience of organising a community event, and some top tips for organising your own!

On 3 June, we held a Big Lunch for our neighbours and other Dot Dot Dot Newham guardians. ‘The Big Lunch’ is an annual ‘get together for neighbours’, set up by the Eden Project and the National Lottery. In 2017, 9.3 million people took part!

My partner and fellow guardian Katherine was also England’s representative in ‘The Big Walk’ – a parallel project where 4 people walk 250 miles in 21 days, from a set point, back to their homes, visiting communities and initiatives on the way, culminating in a Big Lunch where they live.

Morale is low in our area at the moment. Not only an area with some deprivation, but longstanding residents are being relocated to make way for potential redevelopment. Putting on a Big Lunch was just a small thing I could do, as a guardian, to provide some joy and community spirit at a time of uncertainty for many.

I hope my experience of planning a Big Lunch will inspire others to host their own community events. And maybe even a Big Lunch in 2019! Here’s how it went…

How I felt before: Aaaah!

In the weeks after deciding to hold a Big Lunch, it hung over me like a dark cloud. I avoided thinking about it, dreaded the planning and often found myself awash with nerves about putting on an event. I had never put on an event before. Let alone in a place I didn’t know, for people I didn’t know well and who didn’t know me well either. It’s probably safe to say we were viewed with slight apprehension. Local residents probably wondered why we were moving in, when they being moved out.

The power of asking for help

However, in reality, I had nothing to be nervous about. With the help of a start-up pack from the Big Lunch organisers, I quickly made a list of what I would need, and set about planning who could help me. Some requests felt a stab in the dark, but it is remarkable how many people will offer their services, or items, for free in the name of a community cause.

For example:

  • I successfully secured a small grant from Newham Council’s “Let’s Get the Party Started” fund, to cover costs.
  • Tables were hired to us for free from St. Anne’s Church, around the corner, for a small refundable deposit
  • Chairs were hired from Ascension Church, in return for a morning of volunteering
  • Bunting and other decorations were kindly given to us by a local residents’ community group
  • Gazebos, napkins, paper plates, table cloths, balloons, music, speakers, extension leads, and paper plates were all provided by guests
  • Bin-bags were provided by our local cleaner, Paul, who we see each morning
  • The only things I had to spend the Newham Council grant on was food and drink from Marks and Spencer Food to Order (in case some couldn’t take part in Bring and Share), hiring a hot water urn from Casablanca for teas/coffees, and small miscellaneous items like wooden cutlery, and recyclable party cups.

 

I was also driven on by the enthusiasm of the local children. They immediately wanted to be part of the ‘organising team’ and were invaluable in spreading the word to their parents, and helping publicise through posters!

 

The Day!

The Big Lunch was a roaring success. Bathed in beautiful sunshine, we had local families, fellow guardians, and Newham councillors all enjoy food, drink, and party games.

It was also a terrific home-coming for Katherine, who made the final steps of a 250-mile trek to be greeted by a cheering crowd!

We enjoyed a sumptuous lunch made up of everything people had brought, where guests enjoyed plenty of time to get to know each other. This was followed by hotly-contested set of games between two teams “Team Boom” and “The Destroyers”. I think it’s really important to have things “to do” to make the event even more special, and go beyond just a lunch.

It was particularly nice for so many to meet the newly elected councilors for the ward, who were also very keen to hear local stories, especially in a time of such upheaval.

The Legacy

Since the Big Lunch, we have used the left-over decorations and materials to create a Community Cupboard, using an empty shed opposite our house, with the kind blessing of the council and Dot Dot Dot. This has already been used – two weeks later, neighbour Sahra hosted her own community dinner to mark Eid:

“I was very surprised that the big lunch we had in the community garden went so well, I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did. It was wonderful to come together with neighbours and friends and it made me feel very happy. So happy that it inspired me to do a similar event for eid the following week. And thankfully that turned out very nice aswell.

But honestly, if it wasn’t for Tom arranging the big lunch, I wouldn’t have thought of using that space at all.

It’s a shame nothing like this haven’t happened during the last 7 years of living here.. however I’m happy it did now and I sincerely enjoyed the event, food, entertainment and the people around me and my family..”

My tips for organising a community event:

  • Ask for help – from members of your local community. You’ll be able to source practically everything you need from the generosity of others. Also, look for Community Grants that are provided by local councils.
  • Use existing checklists and templatesstreetparty and the big lunch are both excellent sources of advice
  • Publicise it early – get a poster up, send handwritten notes around, explaining what you’re doing, and make sure everyone is informed and happy
  • Everyone’s responsible for their own safety – Get permissions (the Council, Dot Dot Dot), and assess the risks that you manage, but make it clear to everyone that they are responsible for their own (and their own children’s) safety
  • Invite people to bring food to share – this way, everyone has greater ownership in the event and it releases the pressure on you to provide everything

 

This week it is National Picnic Week, but also The Great Big Get Together. This is the perfect opportunity to join your neighbours, friends and family for a huge picnic to kick start a fantastic summer. Find an event going on near you this weekend here.

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