A Derry man has just spent an incredible couple of weeks walking around Northern Ireland - meeting some of its most inspirational people in a bid to bring communities closer together.
Rory Mullan and his walking partner Patricia Fleming were hand-picked to be the Big Lunch community walkers for 2019 because of their own great community work – travelling around NI representing the Big Lunch, an Eden Project supported by the National Lottery that aims to bring communities closer together with food and fun.
Rory, originally from Limavady, is a support worker for children with learning disabilities at The Cottage in Derry City, and also a volunteer with the Samaritans. The 38-year-old has worked in community development for over 15 years.
Since they set off on their journey on Friday, May 17, Rory and Patricia have had a whirlwind two weeks. They met HRH The Prince of Wales and HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, who is Patron of the Big Lunch, at a Big Lunch event in Lisnaskea visited a GAA club in Ballygalget doing cross-community work on dementia awareness got a lesson in lacemaking from a Newry community group that helps combat social isolation met 14-year-old Cara Monaghan, a pupil at Holy Trinity College in Cookstown, who is an activist with charity Beyond Skin, and uses her musical talents for peace projects in troubled regions like Sri Lanka and Afghanisation went out on a boat with the dedicated volunteers of Foyle Search and Rescue, a charity set up to preserve life, prevent suicide and support families
This weekend Rory hosted friends and family at his own Big Lunch in Brooke Park on Saturday afternoon, before joining Patricia for a Sunday Big Lunch in Belfast.
Walker Rory said: “This has been an amazing few weeks. One highlight was going to the hurling club in Ballygalget and seeing how they’ve been able to come together with a 100% protestant village in cross-community work. I’m from a GAA background and it was great to see the two communities coming together, working together and sharing space together.
“The other was Hands That Talk in Dungiven. I had no understanding of how isolated the deaf community was 20 years ago. There was no organised social clubs, activities or centre. Some people never learned to sign, were never taught to read, and often never left the house because nobody in their own community could communicate with them, let alone in society.
“There was nothing for the adult deaf community in Northern Ireland. But the vision of one woman, Dorothy Hegarty, set up a club that grew into an educational and training centre. People travel from all over Northern Ireland to Hands That Talk in Dungiven. To see it in practice, in their new building supported by the National Lottery, is genuinely one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen in my home country.
“I also loved hosting my own Big Lunch in Brooke Park. I invited all my neighbours and ended up meeting eleven different families I’d not spoken to before. That simply would not have happened if I had not taken part in the Big Lunch. I know a lot of them will help next year and that sums up how powerful this whole idea is – and that it really, really works.”
An idea from the Eden Project, made possible by the National Lottery, The Big Lunch is about millions of people getting together to share food and get to know each other better. Every year, over 6 million people take to their streets, gardens and neighbourhoods to join in for a few hours of community, friendship and fun.
This year’s Big Lunch weekend was on June 1 and 2 – but Big Lunches can be any time, and anywhere. Get your free pack at thebiglunch.com