The Eden Project
The Big Lunch - an Eden Project


Get your friends together with the Brunch Challenge

September 23, 2016
Author: Siobhan File

When life was getting in the way of socialising, this group of friends found a way to stay in touch and eat a lot of brunch….but there are a few rules.

A group of people pose for a photo with their brunch.

Nothing puts a smile on your face like brunch and your best mates in the sunshine!

It all began on a lovely sunny afternoon in early June. Four of us were sitting in a pub garden sipping a cool beer and eating hog roast. We find all the best ideas come to us in this kind of situation and after a drink or two! Discussion got onto plans for the summer. Looking through our diaries we found that we were already struggling to find days when we were all free to meet and realised that getting together was going to get even more tricky when we included other friends’ calendars. Work, children, sport, prior appointments and general life were getting in the way of socialising. That is when we came up with the idea of the brunch challenge.

The idea was to visit 20 breakfast/lunch serving venues between then and the end of the year with the following rules:

  • There has to be a minimum of 3 people present (therefore encouraging socialising and people not just having breakfast with their partners).
  • You have to rate the experience on venue, food quality, service and price.
  • Note down any distinguishing features, e.g. do the baked beans touch the rest of the food (very important to some people!), does the ketchup come in sachets or tomato shaped bottles?
  • Finally, a photograph of the experience has to be posted along with the scores to our Brunch Challenge WhatsApp group. That way those that aren’t present can feel part of the experience, minimising FOMO, and hopefully encouraging them to make more of an effort to be present themselves for the next time.
A large plate filled with baked beans, sausages, egg, tomato and toast.

Uh oh, baked beans spreading across the plate…

There are 13 of us in the group and so far, we have been to 11 different venues. It has meant that we have been able to meet more regularly – after all, no matter what people have planned individually for the rest of the day, it is always important to start it off with a good breakfast. It has been great fun visiting the different venues and these have been in several different towns so we have been getting out and about of our hometowns as well.

Two women eating brunch outside.

These brunchers mean business.

Once the challenge is complete the plan is for the whole group to visit the highest scoring venue and experience the power of food and friendship in a celebration meal!

Eggs Benedict with salmon.

Sometimes brunch gets too much for some, which is why it’s always good to have a few extra people at the table willing to help you out.

No comments
, , , ,

Changing lives with tea and cake, one village at a time

September 21, 2016
Author: Jocelyn Murdoch

If anyone understands the true power of food, it’s Ann Osborn. Ann is the Director of the Rural Coffee Caravan, a small charity that works hard to reduce the stress of isolation in rural parts of Suffolk. We caught up with her to find out more about the remarkable work that the charity does.


Tell us about your fantastic project, the Rural Coffee Caravan…

The Rural Coffee Caravan started in 2003. We take a mobile community café and information centre out to rural locations for little tea and chat gatherings that are completely free. We offer residents the chance to get together socially and access information about services that might make their lives easier, happier and healthier. The aim is to promote community spirit and cohesion, and to work to end loneliness.

What part do you play in the scheme?

I am now the Charity Director, but I started 12 years ago as a part time Project Manager. I was a ‘stay at home’ mum, with no qualifications and luckily when I started looking for a job, they were mad enough to take a chance on me! The year I started they made 15 visits. Last year we made 197.

How does The Big Lunch come into your story?

I hadn’t heard of The Big Lunch until I saw them on Twitter a couple of years ago. I retweeted them and they asked if we’d like to apply to Big Lunch Extras. In May 2014, we went to the community camp at the Eden Project and had the best time! It was so uplifting and really refreshed and refocused us. We learnt so much and gathered so many ideas to share with our communities. We persuaded one village to have a Big Lunch last year, which was hugely successful. We want to build on that and are working hard to raise awareness of The Big Lunch and Big Lunch Extras.


What effect does getting together and sharing food have on the people who take part in Rural Coffee Caravan?

Most daytime social events will involve the sentence, ‘Fancy a cuppa?’. Tea is a panacea, a balm for life’s ailments and a reward for, well, anything you want really. It’s just what we Brits do, so we built on that, added in coffee and cake, and made it all free to ensure that no one was excluded. It works so wonderfully well because it’s so informal and it’s pretty hard to be shy with a mouthful of chocolate brownie! Our outside events are like picnics and our cream teas have a celebratory feel. Food is powerful because there are so many ways to engage with it. You can prepare it, serve it, talk about it, donate it, share it and, of course, eat it! We meet so many different people with different abilities and outlooks, but everyone can take part in a food-based event, fulfilling one or all of those roles. A conversation about cake or a request to pass the sugar can be the start of a friendship. Sharing is caring.

What have you learnt from being involved with the Rural Coffee Caravan?

That people need other people, they need to be needed, to have a purpose, to be remembered and to be acknowledged. That people need to talk, to be listened to and even to be hugged. That community spirit is alive, but sometimes it’s hard to know how best to express it. That communities often need support and encouragement. That communities that have cracked it are only too happy to share their experiences. That kindness does indeed cost nothing and we need more of it!

What has been your most moving moment working for the Rural Coffee Caravan?

There have been so many. The lady who shocked and saddened us so much because she hadn’t had a conversation for TWO MONTHS! A fellow resident, who was new to the village, overheard and invited her to go to an exercise class with her. The lady was so delighted – a small gesture that meant so much.

Or maybe the sweet lady who sits in her window waving at people and keeps her back door open in the hope that someone will come in for a cuppa. We invited her out to our visits and helped her get there. Now she has friends that visit. Her joy made us cry!

It’s always very simple things, not rocket science. We need the social glue that is conversation and tea and cake to help it happen.

What are the plans for the Rural Coffee Caravan in the future?

To keep on keeping on. We already have bookings for next year and as long as funding continues, so will we. There is no need to reinvent the wheel; our simple model works. We make a difference to rural communities throughout Suffolk – and we have cake!


Check out more about Ann’s incredible work on the Rural Coffee Caravan website and give them a follow on Twitter.

No comments
Spreading the word, The power of food
, , , ,

Spreading happiness through Happy cafés

September 20, 2016
Author: Elyse Clarke

Stan Rosenthal is the National Coordinator of the Happy Café Network, created by members of the Action for Happiness movement.

Stan from the Happy Café

Stan with Happy Café materials at the Alternative Health Cafe, Haywards Heath

I have spent much of my life commuting to London, holding down a demanding job and keeping up with all my other interests and obligations.

All these pressures concentrated my mind wonderfully on what we really need to be happy. So when the charity Action for Happiness was formed five years ago I jumped at the opportunity of becoming part of a, non-commercial, non-religious, non-political movement which provided many of the answers I was seeking and had spreading happiness as its goal, particularly as this mission was based on scientific research into what makes us truly contented.

Since it began the movement has gone from strength to strength, now boasting a worldwide membership of over 70,000, a social media following of many times that, and the Dalai Lama as its Patron.

The Canvas Café Shoreditch

London’s first Happy Café, the Canvas Café in Shoreditch

What prompted me to create the Happy Café Network was the concern that although information on how to live happier lives was reaching more and more people through our website and staged events, it would not be sufficiently embedded at the social and personal level unless it was more widely accessible and could be reinforced by face-to-face, day-to day contact with likeminded people (much in the same way that Weightwatchers encourage meetups to reinforce their guidelines on how to lose weight).

I found an answer to how the message could be spread in this way in Alain de Botton’s inspirational book Religion for Atheists. In one section De Botton describes how Christianity was initially spread by gatherings around a table (usually laden with wine, lamb and loaves of unleavened bread) to commemorate the Last Supper.

As De Botton puts it “Like the Jews with their Sabbath meal, Christians understood that it is when we satiate our bodily hunger that we are often readiest to direct our minds to the needs of others. In honour of the most important Christian virtue, these gatherings hence became known as agape (meaning ‘love’ in Greek) feasts and were regularly held by Christian communities between Jesus’s death and the Council of Laodicea in AD 364”.

Adapting the idea to a non-religious setting De Botton imagines an ideal restaurant where strangers come together and “as in church, signal their allegiance to a spirit of community and friendship”. As he goes on to say “the proximity required by a meal – something about handing dishes around, unfurling napkins at the moment, even asking a stranger to pass the salt – disrupts our ability to cling to the belief that outsiders who wear unusual clothes and speak in distinctive accents deserve to be sent home or assaulted.” Highly relevant in post-Brexit Britain of course.

He adds that “the moments of ingestion of food are propitious for moral education. It is as if the imminent prospect of something to eat seduces our normally resistant selves into showing the same generosity to others as the table has shown to us.”

As with De Botton’s Agape Restaurants, Happy Cafés are convivial places where strangers can come together, share their experiences, and hone their happiness and caring skills over a meal or just a coffee, making that face to face connection that is so vital for our mental health. People have described their Happy Café conversations as some of the most meaningful in their lives. Anyone wishing to talk to others at the café can identify themselves by wearing Action for Happiness badges available at the café.

The Canvas Café interior

The Canvas Café

Also available at such cafes, in addition to the usual menu, is a menu of advice on how to enhance your mental wellbeing based on the scientifically researched Ten Keys to happier living drawn up by the Action for Happiness movement. These keys include relating well to others, feeling good by doing good, trying out new things, adopting a positive approach to life, and being comfortable with who you are. They are set out in postcards, pamphlets and posters at the café and a range of related books might be on the shelves for those who wish to delve more deeply into these matters. It might also be possible to indulge in a wide range of wellbeing activities (such as talks and movies on this theme, yoga, mindfulness training) if the café is appropriate for this purpose.

The first Happy Café was set up at Emporium (now 88 London Road) in Brighton nearly two years ago. There are currently three more in Brighton, another thirty or so throughout the UK, and several abroad, notably in Italy, Germany, Poland Romania, Cambodia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Costa Rica and Australia. Full information with links to the related material and resources can be found at our Happy Café website.

My hope is that this piece will at least give you food for thought about what makes you happy, preferably at one of our Happy Cafés.

No comments
Spreading the word, The power of food
, , , ,

A Conversation with John Crouch

September 16, 2016
Author: Jocelyn Murdoch

Earlier this month we grabbed a few minutes with celebrity chef John Crouch to find out more about what the power of food means to him.


Image © All rights reserved by Tony Worrall

Hi John! Thanks for taking time out to talk to us! We’re really excited you’re getting involved with The Big Lunch. Could you tell everyone a bit about what you do?

Yes, I’m a freelance chef and I do cookery demonstrations and workshops, locally throughout Cumbria and as far away as India. I’m very interested in period food, especially Roman and Georgian food, and do hedgerow cookery, foraging for seasonal produce. Through my wife, I have a connection to Indian cuisine too.

How did you get into food and cooking?

I actually worked in publishing for ten years down in London then I went to study food at Canterbury College as a mature student, so cooking is my second career! I really enjoy researching and I’m always reading – a few years ago, I counted that I had 4,000 cookery books! You can find information everywhere; on the back of packets, in magazines, in geography and history books – all of them mention food and its history. When I go into schools, I always say cooking covers every subject they’re learning: English, maths, history, chemistry….

Lots of your work is about bringing people together to share food, whether it’s through workshops, demonstrations or storytelling. Why is that important to you?

It’s all about passing that passion on. Food has such an important role in our lives, from birth to marriage to death. At all these occasions, and all the major festivals, like Christmas and Easter, we have a gathering and eat together. With all the events I do, it’s as much about everyone coming together for a couple of hours in a relaxed atmosphere as the cookery.

Do you think food gives people a stronger sense of community?

Oh yes, definitely. Food is so linked to the local area and the availability of ingredients there. If you get the map out, there are so many place names linked with food. For example, Grizedale means ‘valley of the pigs’ while Keswick comes from the word ‘cheese’. We’re so lucky in Cumbria because there are so many dishes connected with the area.

Something really interesting that you do in local communities is mix storytelling with food. How does that work?

I do regional storytelling workshops with storyteller Taffy Thomas. Taffy will tell a story including certain foods and I’ll cook that ingredient with a tasting at the end. Chopping an onion is chopping an onion, but telling a story makes it so much more interesting and holds the audience’s attention. People are fascinated by it! We started off in small village halls and then we were asked to do the Sydenham folk festival, for an audience of about 200 people. I’ve known Taffy so long that we just bounce off each other and go with the flow.

That sounds great, and so unusual!

Yeah, many people have never experienced that kind of thing before. It can be adapted to any situation, and any community. We’ve done a Christmas themed workshop, and one with a Chinese story and accompanying dish.

We get people from all across the board, from little ones right up to senior citizens. I’m often booked by different groups and that’s why events like this are so good.

What a great way to bring people together!

Exactly. We all have to eat, but it’s far more enjoyable with company. It’s important in some cultures to do it all together, from the shopping to the preparation then sharing it all together. With food, there’s a result that comes out of it – it’s satisfying to make something tasty and enjoyable. When someone says ‘Come round for lunch’, it’s a treat.

I love how at a workshop, everyone has the same recipe, the same ingredients, and the same amount of time, and all of the dishes will come out differently! It’s about putting yourself into what you’re cooking and getting something rewarding out of it.

We couldn’t agree more! Finally, if you were going to make a dish to share and bring to a Big Lunch, what would it be?

Something you can dip into, rather than having to split it into portions. It would be comforting, I think, and nothing too outrageous! When I’m catering for occasions, I like to make things people can identify easily at a buffet – it makes them feel at ease and then they can try something more adventurous later on.

I’m going to be making some Georgian dishes for my first Big Lunch in October – very exciting!

John will be taking part in his first Big Lunch with the Dove Cottage and The Wordsworth Museum in Grasmere on 1 October from 11am-3pm.

1 comment
Spreading the word, The power of food
, , , ,

Why connection is vital: a view from a Loneliness Summit

September 15, 2016
Author: Elyse Clarke

Our Scotland Country Manager, Emily Watts, talks to us about the the Loneliness Summit, and why maintaining social connections is vital for our health.


Three of our team attended the Befriending Networks Loneliness Summit in Edinburgh last week. I think the speakers gave us all pause for thought. We work on projects that we know act as an antidote to loneliness and support the building of social capital. We see the effect of Big Lunches across the country in making people feel better about where they live and the people they live next to, and we are honoured to meet and connect people across the UK  through the Big Lunch Extras programme, working on projects locally that mean something to them.

But the things we heard at the Loneliness summit brought it home why all of this is so important.  Professor Sabina Brennan from Trinity College in Dublin told us all how loneliness can affect the brain structures. When we are lonely, our primal instinct kicks in and our brain actually changes its structure and chemistry. Our responses in social situations are dampened and more sensitive to negativity. We lose the ability to empathise with others – we become focused on self-preservation, not making social connections. It’s not a deficiency in any of us, but a longstanding survival technique. Loneliness hurts. Our clever brains try to make it hurt less.

Dr. Peter Cawston, a Glasgow GP and Clinical Lead for the Scottish Government Links Worker Programme, spoke poignantly about the experiences of patients at his surgery who, amongst other issues, experience loneliness. He told us how the Links Worker project, by encouraging GPs to take longer on each appointment in order to be able to listen to patients, and by encouraging the staff at the practice to take care of their own wellbeing, was enabling people attending the surgery who are experiencing loneliness to develop support groups. It seems we really are all better when we look after our own wellbeing – it enables us to reach out to others much more easily.

Our perspective is that while we love what we do, and we feel incredibly lucky to work on something so positive, there are much harder edged outcomes to getting together and sharing food, or ideas. It enables us to develop those connections to other people that our brains and bodies need so that we can be as healthy as possible.

As someone who has experienced loneliness and who has had friends who’ve also had deep experiences of this, I know how very important keeping our social connections live is. And I understand how difficult it can be when the walls of your loneliness make you feel even more alone. It’s why we advocate reaching out. It’s good for all of us, and as Eden always says, we’re better equipped to face the challenges we face when we face them together.

No comments
Scotland, Spreading the word

The whole cake and nothing but the cake: Lynn Hill and The Clandestine Cake Club

September 14, 2016
Author: Elyse Clarke

The founder of the Clandestine Cake Club, Lynn Hill, tells us how and why she set up the Club, which now has boasts 180 clubs worldwide and why, most importantly, the Clandestine Cake Club operates a ‘whole cake’ rule: no buns or brownies allowed.

Founder of the Clandestine Cake Club, Lynn Hill

Lynn Hill, founder of the Clandestine Cake Club. Image © Joan Ransley.

What spurred or motivated you to get people together over tea and cake?

The idea to create the Clandestine Cake Club (CCC) came in 2010 when I was running the Secret Tea Room in my own home. I served homemade afternoon tea to people, who booked a place online. The location was only given to those who booked a place. This was something I enjoyed doing.  After a few months I realised how much people loved to get together and have convivial conversation where food, or in this case tea and cake, were at the heart of bringing like minded people together. I wondered how I could extend this concept and get people to do the baking themselves. I searched the internet, and at that time there were no cake clubs or baking clubs at all. So I decided to create the first club in Leeds on 11 December 2010 and I have never looked back. After two years of running the Secret Tea Room and the Clandestine Cake Club simultaneously, I decided to close the doors on the Secret Tea Room to concentrate on building the community of home bakers that were registering with the website. A trickle suddenly became a deluge. After nearly six years, the membership is almost 19,000 people, with around 180 clubs around the world, two cook books and a free digital magazine. In a nutshell, I created the CCC simply because no-one else was doing it. I have a ‘can do’ approach to life and felt I had to give it a try. I just went for it to see what would happen. I never expected it to grow as big as it has.

How did you go about putting your idea into action?

Initially I put a call out on social media via Twitter, asking people if I created a cake club would anyone be interested. The positive response from many of my followers spurred me into action. I wanted the club to have the same secrecy as the Secret Tea Room and when someone suggested the word ‘clandestine’ I immediately created the Twitter account, bought the website domain name and built a website before I made any announcements. Setting up a website is pretty easy, even six years ago. I did everything myself. Over the years, people came forward to help with website design and the technical issues that occurred along the way: I will always be grateful to them. They continue to support me today.

When did you notice there was the potential to take your project further?

I had an inkling, right from the start, that it would take off for the simple reason that there were no other clubs like it around, other than perhaps the Women’s Institute. My gut feeling told me I may be onto something and I always go with that instinct: if it feels right, do it.

You have strict rules around the necessity of (whole) cake – why?

The simple answer? You can share a cake. There is interaction and conversation from the first slice, when you cut into the cake and ask the person next to you, “Would you like a slice? How big?” Revealing the inside of a covered cake often creates many “Oohs” and “Aahs”; multi layered cakes of rainbow colours and fillings reveal themselves for the first time in front of admiring cake lovers. A cupcake, muffin or brownie, simply lifted from the serving plate, does not quite have the same impact. There is an art to baking a good cake and when you have the chance to share what you make it gives many people the lift they need. Friendships have begun over a slice or three  people are transported away from their troubles and being part of the CCC has helped many people through difficult times, through mental illness and depression. How do I know this?  The emails tell me, the conversations tell me. Being part of the CCC has changed their lives, taken them down different and exciting roads in their life and created new friendships through the simple act of sharing a cake.

A beautiful Big Lunch rainbow cake that went down a storm.

A beautiful Big Lunch rainbow cake, sure to illicit some “Oohs” and “Aahs”.

The CCC has now gone international, what do you think are its biggest success factors?

I think its biggest success is that people love to get together. The fantastic organisers who find venues are some of the most enthusiastic people and bakers around. They help bring people together in their local area for a few hours of conversation and cake sharing. Whether it’s a book club or a cake club, people with a common interest will love to meet each other, and for those with depression, are new to an area or are feeling lonely, they will find that at our events strangers become friends very quickly.

Do you have a favourite moment or milestone from this amazing journey you’ve been on?

I have several. Myself and some of my members have appeared on many TV shows such as The One Show, Lorraine and Alan Titchmarsh’s show, and a few years ago we were lucky enough to be part of a documentary about cake with Nigel Slater. I’ve even had the pleasure of having afternoon tea at Bettys in Harrogate with Nadiya Hussain, winner of the Great British Bake Off. A lovely person and another favourite moment. Meeting some wonderful people, not only celebrities, but people in general, have been some of my favourite memories. Receiving the copy of my first cook book is another favourite that not everyone has the joy of doing. Each new experience becomes a favourite memory.

What next for you and the CCC?

My latest project is a free digital magazine called Sucré Kitchen, launched 1 September. A quarterly magazine with all kinds of recipes, including features from and about CCC members, bloggers who write about their home town and articles about the sweet things in life.

You can keep up with Lynn and the CCC through Twitter and Facebook .

No comments
Case Study, Celebrities, Community, Spreading the word, Stories, The power of food

Growing communities with The Power of Food Festival

September 13, 2016
Author: Siobhan File

Marie-Amélie is the founder of Edinburgh’s The Power of Food Festival, which encourages greater societal wellbeing, environmental sustainability, and social justice through the promotion of inclusive community food growing. She shares her journey with us.

Early beginnings

When I was a child, my family used to sit down around the table three times a day to eat together. Despite my parents’ demanding jobs and everyone’s busy schedules, we have always, to this day, made eating together a priority. At mealtimes, I listened to my mum and dad discussing work and the news; while it often didn’t mean much to me, it gave me an awareness of what was going on in their world and a sense of belonging. I also helped with the weekly food shop and with laying the table, but I never learned to cook. When I left home, age 17, I remember a family friend asking: “How are you going to manage on your own? You don’t know how to cook!”. This had never occurred to me and indeed, never turned out to be an issue. I’d seen how to choose quality ingredients, I’d watch others operate magic in the kitchen, I heard lots about not wasting food and about those who were less fortunate than I was, and, without nagging us, my mum had always told us about the importance of a varied and balanced diet. Without even realising it at the time, I grew up with a deep sense of what food is all about, it was in my bones and instinctive.

Food at the heart

Fast-forward 20 years… By now, my childhood experiences have been reinforced by a career focused on environmental sustainability and social issues. My early sense of food has become an acute awareness that food is at the crossroads of so many of the major challenges the world faces: from climate change to the widening gap between ‘the haves’ and ‘the have-nots’; from rising concerns around so-called ‘nature deficit disorder’ to the obesity epidemic; from tensions in North-South relations, to the evidence of increasing social isolation. By reconnecting with food, giving it pride of place at the centre of our lives, and paying a lot more attention to how it’s produced, processed, distributed, sold, prepared, and enjoyed, I firmly believe we can start to address many of the issues of the 21st century.

Two men and a woman look at vegetable gardens.

Craigies Education and Environment Project

Connected by nature

Over the last 10 years or so, we have seen an inspiring number of community food growing groups spring up all over the country. People have started to dig the ground in their local schools, libraries, hospitals, council estates, shared greens or wherever they could, and have come together to transform the physical environment and the lives of people in their community. They have turned boring patches of grass into beautiful productive green spaces, have had fun getting their hands dirty, they have watched the seasons go by, the birds come and go, together they have seen the fruit of their efforts grow, they have learned from one another, they have made new friends and have enjoyed eating together. These shared gardens offer the opportunity for positive collective action, they provide a welcoming and relaxing green space, a new focal point in communities where, in some cases, there is nowhere else to go and meet people.

People standing around vegetable gardens.

Gracemount Grow Stronger

Small is beautiful

It would be easy to romanticise and think all is rosy in the garden. For sure, there’s lots to showcase and celebrate and as we do so, we must remember that these community food gardens only exist thanks to the huge commitment of people who give their skills, time, energy and love to nurture these special places and all the lives that gravitate around them. Like growing food, growing a community spirit requires patience and resilience. It’s a fragile process that does not do well under pressure. It favours an organic approach where diversity is key and everyone, whatever their story, can feel valued as a human being, find a niche and (re)invent themselves.

I realised that all this was happening mostly unnoticed. The community growers’ fabulous work, their ability to keep going, sometimes against the odds, their generosity of spirit and ability to change lives, are truly inspirational; I felt their stories had to be shared and celebrated and the idea of The Power of Food Festival was born. At the height of the growing season, on the summer solstice weekend, community food gardens all around Edinburgh fling open their gates and invite the public to come in and discover something beautiful they didn’t imagine existed on their doorstep.

People walking around gardens on a sunny day.

Cyrenians community garden at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital

From small acorns…

The journey from lightbulb moment to the first edition of The Power of Food Festival in 2015 was very quick and couldn’t have happened without everyone rallying around the idea so enthusiastically. It was a humbling experience. Lots of people wanted to be part of it, whether or not they were involved in community food growing. We’d struck a chord; our vision spoke to people. We had a great range of folk contributing their talent freely to make the event rich in fun and entertaining for all: from storytelling to food-themed poetry making, from wind bands and community choir to African dancing, from bike-powered smoothie-making to insect safari, and of course quite a lot of yummy food along the way—including a delicious meal cooked from scratch and served to 60 people. We want the Festival to be highly inclusive and accessible. One of the ways we do that is by making it entirely free. We’ve also teamed up with Sustrans, the cycling charity, who have led a cycle tour of the Festival. Yes, despite some initial doubts that we could do it, it really did happen!

A band plays under a tree outside.

Anasi Dance Group at Freshstart Food Station

The Power of  Food Festival has now enjoyed its second successful edition and we are already thinking about 2017. So far, 26 gardens have taken part, dozens of volunteers have given their time and taken pride in the result of their efforts, and over 1000 visitors have had their eyes opened to something wonderful and exciting. The Festival has also started to attract a strong following through social media that extends all the way to the Philippines! Edinburgh is one of many places where community food gardens have multiplied and we very much believe there is scope to replicate what we do in lots of other places and maybe one day create a global celebration. In fact, early signs are that some people in other parts of the UK have been inspired by The Power of Food Festival and are turning their mind to starting a version of their own where they live!

People sit on the ground outside at a festival.

Musical fun with Bridgend Inspiring Growth


Marie-Amélie Viatte

Founder of The Power of Food Festival

And on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

1 comment
, , ,

The Biggest Lunch: #Feedingthe5000 at Culture Night Belfast

September 12, 2016
Author: Elyse Clarke

Culture Night is the best night of the year in Belfast, when all of the artists, musicians, dancers, comedians and community groups come out en masse for a celebration of all that is brilliant about the city. If you haven’t been, don’t miss it this year as the centrepiece of the whole event is a Big Lunch!

The Big Lunch conversation menu for the Feeding the 5000 event at Belfast Culture Night 2016.

Conversation menus will keep the chatter going all night long at The Feeding the 5000 Big Lunch table.

The Feeding the 5000 Big Lunch table will run the length of Donegall street, seating almost 300 people at a time, from 12 noon until 6pm on Friday 16 September.

For this Culture Night Big Lunch, Belfast Food Network has rounded up surplus food from farmers across Northern Ireland  food that would not otherwise go to waste. Friends of the Earth volunteers will chop it at four ‘Chop and Bop’ events across the city, and Chef Para will cook it into a biriyani for thousands of people. Our community network members will use the conversation menus to connect people over the food and we’ll be encouraging people to share their own stories, ideas and creativity, and to carry The Big Lunch back to their neighbourhood.

The central idea of Culture Night this year – Stone Soup – is very similar to the idea of The Big Lunch. It’s based on an old folk tale, which goes like this:

“A long time ago, a group of travellers came to a village carrying nothing but an empty cooking pot. They filled the pot with water from a stream, dropped a large stone in it, and placed it over a fire. One of the villagers became curious and asked what they were doing. The travellers said, “we are making stone soup. It tastes wonderful, but needs a little bit of garnish to improve the flavour, which we are missing.” So the villager gave them a few carrots. Another villager, seeing this, handed them a little bit of seasoning. Slowly, more and more villagers added little bits and pieces to the pot. Finally, the stone was removed from the pot, and a delicious and nourishing pot of soup was enjoyed by all.”

The moral of the story is simple: you need nothing but an idea and enthusiasm to draw the curiosity of others, and through their involvement they breath life and flavour into the idea, creating something for the good of everyone.  It’s about creativity and sharing; strangers becoming friends over food.

Who knows what it all might lead to, but we’re sure it can only be good.

If you’d like to come down and support this event, even for an hour, please get in touch with Niamh Scullion at We’d love to have you! Make sure to keep up to date with what’s going on through our Twitter and Facebook pages too.

Events, News, Northern Ireland, Spreading the word, The power of food

Use your love of food as a force for good

September 7, 2016
Author: Siobhan File

If you live for food—eating it, making it, buying it, cooking it, growing it, talking about it, sharing it or studying it—then here are a few ideas to put your passion to use as a force for good in your home and community.

Start a neighbourhood potluck club

Take it in turns to host your neighbours, or choose an easy venue. The host chooses a theme, e.g. Italian, something red, cheese, and everyone brings a dish to enjoy together.

A mother and daughter carry a dish of food each down the street.

Contributing to a pot luck is fun for all involved

Join your local Clandestine Cake Club

If you love baking cakes, eating cakes and talking about cakes while meeting new people then this is the club for you.

A Victorian sponge cake with a slice taken out.

Cakes are the best bakes for sharing

Find out the history and heritage of your favourite foods

Where did they originate, what were they used for, how have they changed? Try org or this guide to Getting started in food history. Use your new food knowledge as a party trick, or get the family to research and contribute something about the meal’s origins before dinner.

Medieval bakers put bread in the oven.

You might be surprised about the origins of your fave food

Find a local charity or community group that needs cooks or bakers

Use the filters on to find food related ways you can volunteer.

A man and woman in chefs clothing prepare food waste.

Volunteering is a rewarding way to put your love of food to good use

Join a Meetup Foodie group

Meetup has a huge range of groups started by foodies far and wide: from lovers of local, to macaroon makers to medieval bakers.

A cooking class prepare a meal in a kitchen.

If it doesn’t yet exist on Meet Up, create your own group

Invite the neighbours round for a beer

But not any old beer—one that you’ve brewed yourself out of waste bread! Check out the recipe from Toast Ale and you’re sure to impress your guests.

Someone testing their beer brew.

Beer from leftover bread? Yes indeed

Set up a communal pantry or fridge in your street

Take inspiration from this community fridge in Frome, Somerset, which gives to those in need and reduces food waste at the same time!

A small colourful building that's actually a community fridge.

Frome have an amazing scheme in place, but small is good too

Have a cup of tea and a piece of cake with the elderly

Contact the Elderly is a charity that organises Sunday tea parties for isolated or lonely older people. If you love baking and a cup of tea, but require eating buddies, check out opportunities to start a tea party in your neighbourhood.

People laughing at a tea party.

Tea, cake and chitter chatter on Sundays? Yes please

Start a food related community project

If you’re a teacher of taste, an activist against food waste, a believer in buying local, a soldier for sustainability, a solution-finder for food shortages, or a revolutionary reducing food poverty then try our Big Lunch Extras resources list for food community project ideas you can join or get involved with.

A young girl rolls pizza dough on a table outside.

Get the locals involved in food in whatever way you can

Have a neighbourhood get-together

Get the neighbours together, at any time of the year—whether it’s for a Big Lunch, a barbeque, Sunday roast, a Christmas meal, a football finale, someone’s birthday, anniversary or wedding. Any excuse to eat, right? The power of food is strong, so harness your energy and enthusiasm and unleash its delicious goodness in your community!

Four young adults enjoy a drink in their alley way.

Getting together can be as full on or simple as you like (Photo: Miracle Way, Belfast 2016)

No comments
The power of food, Top tips
, , , , ,

The power of one lunch

September 6, 2016
Author: Elyse Clarke

Paula Tabakin is an activity co-ordinator at Fairholme: a South Belfast sheltered housing scheme. She entered the tenants into a recent competition run by the Eden Project and The Big Lottery Fund, and wouldn’t you know it, she won. With her winnings she brought tenants and neighbours together for a Big Lunch. This is a story about one lunch feeding community spirit for days, and how one lunch can lead to another and another!

Paula Tabakin and Assumpta pictured at The Big Lunch they held at Fairholme as part of a lottery funded UK initiative to increase community spirit.

Paula Tabakin (Belfast Trust) and Assumpta pictured at The Big Lunch they held at Fairholme as part of a Lottery funded UK initiative to increase community spirit.

Fairholme is an enhanced care sheltered housing scheme run by Helm Housing and Belfast Health Trust. Paula, who works part time, is always looking for fun low cost ways to engage the older people, many of whom have complex needs that limit their involvement in local community life.

Paula says, “When you have complex needs and live in sheltered housing it can get a bit socially isolating because even when you go out and about, people (for different reasons) can distance themselves from you.

“I have been to a few local Big Lunches and love the way everyone brings something to the table, creating shared ownership. At most events people turn up and take, whereas the giving is the best bit. Our tenants are not all able to get about for various reasons so I told them about The Big Lunch and we decided to do it ourselves—inviting the wider neighbourhood to join in.”

Paula was delighted to win the competition and put her winnings towards additional activities for the day. They are still making use of them now.

The Big Lunch Northern Ireland Country Manager Grainne McCloskey can see that The Big Lunch has really taken off across Belfast. “Here at Fairholme, with Paula’s support, vulnerable adults have been able to invite the neighbourhood in and enjoy a fun day together. But more importantly, they have been able to reengage in community life with some of the tenants attending other local Big Lunches at Wildflower Alley and Donegal Pass.”

L-R Eileen, Paula Tabakin -Belfast Trust, Mary at Fairholme Big Lunch, part of a UK wide lottery funded programme to increase community spirit.

L-R: Eileen, Paula Tabakin (Belfast Trust), Mary at the Fairholme Big Lunch, part of a UK wide Lottery funded programme to increase community spirit.

In fact Paula and resident Moya participated in our recent `Whats on your plate’—a mindful Big Lunch at the Belfast Harbour Commissioner’s Office with journalist and creative thinker John Paul Flintoff and Department store for the Mind.

There are lots of community minded people in Belfast doing creative and engaging things and Paula has tapped into this network and invited them to share their energy with the residents of Fairholme. So while they might not be able to get out in the community as often as they used to, the community is coming to them.

“Just sitting here today enjoying our tea and cake, it’s evident just how much pleasure the residents get from a new face visiting and how spending just a few hours of our time with older or less able members of our community isn’t something we should put off doing because of busy work loads,” says Grainne. “I really hope to see more sheltered housing schemes tapping into The Big Lunch idea”.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the craic with the residents and was knocked off my seat when I discovered the canny lady I was chatting with, Mrs Hoey, was 104. She told me she’s not so interested in the past but prefers to focus on today and what’s on the menu to do tomorrow. That’s an attitude we could all learn from.”

To find out more about The Big Lunch and how to take part visit or connect with us on Facebook or Twitter. Based in Northern Ireland? Follow our NI Facebook and Twitter accounts.

No comments
Case Study, Community, Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Case Study, Stories, The Big Lottery Fund
Older posts

Follow us