As plans for this year’s Big Lunch are unveiled here in Blackpool, I’d like to explain, as head of the North West region at Big Lottery Fund (funders of The Big Lunch), why efforts to strengthen communities across Blackpool will be key to the future prosperity of our society and our environment.
According to research, more than a third of people here in the North West do not actively communicate with their neighbours. Less than half feel there is a strong sense of community in the towns or villages where they live, and one in four would not describe their neighbourhood as friendly.
Pretty depressing results, but were we surprised? Not really.
The obvious question is ‘why?’ Why – when we live just steps away from these people – do we rarely know the surname of the people next door, let alone know anything significant about their lives? And how can we possibly expect to change the future of our country, if we do not stop acting as individuals and come together as a much more generous and resilient community?
In 2009, The Big Lunch was born. Led by the founders of the Eden Project and supported by The Big Lottery Fund, it is a project which encourages people across the UK to sit down with their neighbours on one day a year in a simple act of community, friendship and fun.
Last year, a great number of lunches took place across Blackpool but this year we are determined to get even more people on board. All it takes is a conversation, for one neighbour to mention to another that they are thinking of getting involved in The Big Lunch. And before you know it, that neighbour has mentioned it to the lady next door, and then the postman, and the whole thing starts to gather momentum.
The benefits of an event as simple as a street party can be incredible. Lives have been changed, whether it’s been setting up book clubs or sharing tools. More than 80 per cent of people who organised a Big Lunch last year felt better about their neighbourhood as a result.
The Big Lunch is a perfect example of how, by getting to know their neighbours, it becomes much easier for people to share resources.
If we can get people to start believing in the good of their communities, they will start to believe in other collective things such as community energy schemes, which will bring social capital to a wider group of people.
An untapped social energy exists that, when it is unleashed, will help us build a happier country.
The Big Lunch is a get-together for neighbours this Sunday. For your free starter pack, register your event at www.thebiglunch.com or call 0845 850 8181.