Breaking down barriers over lunch

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

For many of us, eating together at the table is all too rare. We live in our own little boxes, go to work and pass people on our street or…

For many of us, eating together at the table is all too rare. We live in our own little boxes, go to work and pass people on our street or the tube without a glance or hello - how often do we take the opportunity to stop and talk to our neighbours and try to get to know them?

But this week over a million of you managed just that. Imagine this: a street full of people chatting and eating, with food available to taste from every continent - and a sense of revelry and good will in the air. This was the scene in streets and parks up and down the country - people coming together to break down barriers and eat lunch with each other.

I’ve been a proud supporter of the Big Lunch and what it’s doing to bring communities closer together. Not only is it a fantastic way for people to eat together for its own sake, it has inspired a powerful sense of community and collective identity, so much needed in what has become an increasingly fractured and fragmented society. No doubt, these lunches have sparked new social connections. People who before didn’t know who lived next door to them are now sharing the school run or helping out elderly neighbours. And overnight, the way people feel and connect to their neighbourhoods has changed. And it’s all started with the people in our very own streets.

This has been the greatest achievement of the Big Lunch, and something we as Government want to emulate in our vision for building the Big Society. We want strong communities, with a collective identity and community spirit that people can really connect with and feel part of. We want people to have a real say over what happens in their streets and communities, to voice their opinions on issues that really matter to them. We want people to care and take responsibility for the environment around them: their parks, their schools, their streets, their local bus services - and we will give them the power to do this. And with greater control and ownership comes a greater sense of belonging and connection. So everybody wins.

Because being an active part of the community is good for the soul. The more we give to our neighbourhoods, the more we get back. The more we gather together and talk about important issues such as crime and antisocial behaviour, the more effective we will be in finding local solutions to these problems.

We can transfer power and control from government to communities and individuals. And we’ve already started doing just that. But we also need individual people to play their part. We need you to get involved, to build networks and form groups with people around you, and to build relationships with those you might not normally mix with. And help build a stronger, more cohesive community around you.