In this guest blog Claire Crook, from the Big Lunch, explains how small community projects working to combat loneliness can access new, free training.

Marie Greenhalgh’s Good Neighbours project addresses loneliness and isolation for older people who are living in her community. She was inspired to start the project when she realised that people from her own community were being referred to the organization she worked for in another district nearby: ‘I was getting referrals to my project for lonely people from Wythenshawe, my home town, but I was unable to accept them because the funding didn’t allow it.’ So Marie took the brave decision to leave her job and start a new project in her neighbourhood.

Initially Marie set up a befriending service, but she was keen to do more and needed a bit of help. ‘I was at a bit of a crossroads, feeling a bit overwhelmed by what I had taken on.’ So she joined the Big Lunch Extras Programme and after attending one of their community camps at the Eden project, she says she went back home ‘with renewed vigour.’

Big Lunch Extras helped Marie to breathe new life into her project, which is now going from strength to strength.  She started a weekly community hub where isolated elderly people and their families can come together, socialise, and engage with local services like opticians, hairdressers, solicitors and a pharmacist in an informal setting.  Having broken down initial barriers participants are now arranging to meet independently and seeking help to organise group outings.  Marie is really excited about the future of her project, she has started to receive funding, is working to establish a Community Interest Company and has won a Spirit of Manchester Award celebrating the significant impact she has had in her local community.

If you have a great idea for a community project or, like Marie, need some help with an existing project then Big Lunch Extras could be exactly what you’re looking for.

Big Lunch Extras is a training programme that builds on the success of the Eden Project’s Big Lunch campaign to get people to take part in an annual street party. Funded by the Big Lottery, Big Lunch Extras aims to help people to run projects that will bring about positive change in their communities.

It starts with a free three-day residential training event at the Eden Project, and there are just a handful of camps left, so now is the time to sign up and apply for your place.

So how does it work?

  • First, you’re invited to the Eden Project, in Cornwall, for a free immersive weekend to get inspiration, practical skills and the confidence to make real, positive changes within your community.
  • You’ll also get the opportunity to attend regional events near you, where you’ll be introduced to others in your area.
  • The Big Lunch Extras team will stay in touch to offer support and to hear how you’re getting on throughout the programme.
  • What’s more, you’ll be part of a fantastic network of some 900 people on the programme who are all in the same boat as you – sharing ideas, contacts and support.

When are the Camps?

  • 28th November – 1st December 2014 (still a few places left, but hurry!)
  • 27th February – 2nd March 2015
  • 17th – 20th April 2015
  • 15th – 18th May 2015
  • 17th – 20th July 2015

More dates to be confirmed soon – keep checking for updates.

So if you are over 18 and you’ve got a great idea for a community project, need help with an existing project, or just want some inspiration, apply for your free place on Big Lunch Extras now. Camp places are funded and include accommodation and travel, so there really is no reason not to take up this fantastic opportunity.

Visit the website to find out more and to apply for your place now.