Volunteering in the community is shown to be one of the best ways to boost mental health and resilience, as evidenced during a recent Eden Project Communities event hosted by Margaret Cunningham and Marie Dunne.
Speaking about the event, Grainne McCloskey from Eden Project Communities Northern Ireland, the people behind The Big Lunch annual day for neighbours, said: “Local community organisers put so much of their energy into helping others, but it comes back to them in the form of gratitude, a sense of belonging, a sense of meaning and purpose.
“We wanted to start the New Year with an investment in those important people who give their time to strengthening our communities, so we decided to hold workshops in Belfast and Derry to help build up their resilience.”
Eden Project Communities, funded by the National Lottery, is encouraging people UK wide to get more actively involved in their local areas. The Northern Ireland network is made up of ordinary people who want to make positive changes where they live.
Margaret and Marie took the opportunity to share their knowledge and skills to deliver the resilience workshop in Derry, and paid tribute to the recently departed Paula Doherty, who gave much of her time to community and “was never shy of rolling up her sleeves and helping out with Cosy Club and the annual Farland Way Big Lunch”.
Around 30 community organisers attended the event. Margaret, who is a Community Assistant at Habinteg Housing Association and local ambassador for The Big Lunch in Derry, transformed the common room at the Cosy Club on Farland Way in Hazelbank “into a haven of peace and calm”.
Marie Dunne - mental health facilitator with the Western Trust - gave a presentation on resilience and spoke about how community activism and volunteering works to build up personal resilience.
Margaret Cunningham’s Big Lunches on Farland Way have become legendary, with themes including a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, Fairytales and Fourth of July Barn dances. “I believe community is like a heartbeat and requires looking after to gain long lasting and positive impact within it,” said Margaret. “Community volunteering can improve the quality of life for others and help people acquire life skills and knowledge themselves.
“I highly recommend to everyone to do The Big Lunch in your neighbourhood even if you start with just a few neighbours it is a great way to make connections that matter. In our community there is a great sense of belonging and this helps us to appreciate the relationships we develop. Participation in neighbourhood activity gives a real sense of satisfaction, and purpose. The more we give the happier and stronger we feel.”
The Big Lunch 2018 – annual day for neighbours and community - is happening on the weekend of June 3. Funded by National Lottery, there are Free Big Lunch packs available at www.thebiglunch.com. If you are interested in future network events follow The Big Lunch Northern Ireland on Facebook or Twitter.
Mary Scally, a participant on the evening, said: “This was one of the most beautiful and meaningful events I have been lucky enough to benefit from. Big thank you to everyone who contributed to organising it and who did so much to make it so special, especially to Margaret and the team who hosted and fed us, Marie who facilitated in her inimitable way and to Niamh and Grainne from the Eden Project who shared some of the wonderful assets of the Eden Project with us in Derry.”