A local man is due to arrive back in Derry today following an epic walk across Northern Ireland to promote bringing local communities together through ‘The Big Lunch.’
Rory Mullan, who is from Limavady but lives, works and volunteers in Derry, will be hosting his own Big Lunch at Brooke Park for fellow residents of the Marlborough Street area and fellow volunteers in the Samaritans tomorrow (Saturday) at 1pm.
Rory is one of a group of ordinary members of the public who have hit the roads across Northern Ireland and in Britain on a 17-day mission to invite as many people as possible to join ‘The Big Lunch.’
Along with Patricia Fleming from Belfast, Rory, who works at the Children’s Cottage in the Waterside, has led the team.
‘The Big Lunch’ is an idea developed by the Eden Project and backed by the National Lottery. It is designed to celebrate the positive impact of collaborative projects and neighbourhood activities and invites everyone to share food, make friends and have fun together through ‘The Big Lunch’ this weekend.
Rory said that after visiting ‘Hands That Talk’ in Dungiven yesterday (Thursday) they will be heading today to Foyle Search & Rescue’s base in Prehen and joining them out on the river.
The group will then head to the Samaritans’ local branch on Clarendon Street before returning across the river to visit the Children’s Cottage, which provides respite/breaks for young people with additional needs.
Speaking from his native Limavady after arriving there on Wednesday, Rory said that it has been an eventful journey meeting inspirational people and community organisations across Northern Ireland, including those who give up there time to help others.
“It genuinely has been a fantastic eye-opener,” Rory said.
“I have been to places I have never been to before and visiting communities I would never have had much interaction with. The range of stuff that ordinary people are doing is fantastic.
“I’ve been volunteering for a good number of years and we have been visiting community organisations and celebrating ordinary people and highlighting volunteering, and the benefits it brings to the organisations and also the social, physical and mental health benefits people get from making a contribution, going out there and getting stuck in.”
As a keen traveller and a member of Magee’s Hill Walking Club, coupled with his experience in diverse groups such as the Londonderry Music Society and Irish traditional music scene, made ‘The Big Lunch’ walk seem a natural fit when it was suggested to him, Rory added.
“Part of my own working, The Cottage is an outreach programme where we bring children out into the community and interacting on a social level outside school.
“We found on the walk that sport and music are fantastic ways to bring communities together.”
The groups that have left a big impression included a hurling club whose gym/ centre is now used by residents from a unionist area, an artist going through cancer who has created a space for people to speak about death, illness and grief and a community who have come together to create activities for children that includes children who have learning disabilities and children who don’t. Rory also praised the Stendhal Festival in Limavady for its inclusive approach, involving and utilising the skills within the local community.
He adds: “There are very deprived communities and people with very, very little resources but doing the absolute best they can.”
Earlier this year ‘The Big Lunch’ released a new report ‘Closing the Distance’ that revealed disconnection in communities is accelerating, compounded by a 4,000 strong Onepoll survey that showed three quarters (72 per cent) of the UK population don’t feel they know their neighbours well, compared with (76 per cent) of the population who felt it would be better for communities if we did.
Peter Stewart Executive Director, Eden Project, said: “We know there is appetite to close the distance and get to know each other better, so why wait?”