Many of you will have seen the adverts for The Big Lunch. The idea is that neighbours all contribute towards a communal lunch and get together to eat it and get to know one another better.

Some of you will have recognised the location for the adverts is in the Shaftesbury Park Estate. A little detective work (well, not much because it’s fairly obvious if you know the area) reveals Milton Avenue is, in fact, Morrison Street.

Now I’m actually a bit disappointed by it. Not because I don’t think it is an absolutely splendid idea, but because they have created a fake location. They are advertising the idea of turning streets into neighbourhoods, but then disguising a real neighbourhood.

Perhaps even more disappointing is that, when you look on the Big Lunch website there are, currently, no events planned on the Shaftesbury Estate. Just two people who are interested – one of them is me, and I am almost certainly not going to be around on 19 July (otherwise my neighbours would have been getting more leaflets and knocks on the door than usual from me).

I usually will point out that assuming someone else will do something is the wrong thing – generally it is, there has to be some responsibility taken – but I can’t help but feel that maybe the organisers of the Big Lunch could have given Morrison Street a little kick start.

But having aired that little gripe, it all echoes a point I failed to make last week, when I was was pondering the sudden upsurge in street parties, they suddenly seem to be fashionable again.

When I was younger we always seemed to be having street parties, my earliest memory is from the street party we had for the Silver Jubilee in 1977. I was given a ride in a cart pulled by a donkey (which I assume was doing the rounds of the street parties) and had to be taken off half-way through because I was bawling my eyes out.

Looking back, despite my feeling that street parties were a regular occurrence, there were probably only two – the Jubilee and the wedding of Charles and Diana in 1981. But they seemed a natural and appropriate response to a national event. And I’m not quite sure why they stopped. Perhaps because there weren’t any more excuses. Perhaps because society changed. Perhaps because things like the Atari and video were taking off and people just didn’t want to meet other people anymore.

And maybe just blogging about it isn’t good enough. Maybe I should have cancelled my plans for 19 July, knocked on doors and delivered those leaflets to try and get something organised on my street. Having failed to do anything, I’m actually just as much to blame for the decline in neighbourhood spirit as anything else.

Maybe I should resolve to do better next year… Anyone with me?

As a little footnote the council issued a single traffic order for all the Big Lunch applications they had received (thereby saving on costs). There are only seven roads that will be officially closed on 19 July: Bridgeford Street SW18, Cloudesdale Road SW12, Fernside Road SW12, Galveston Road SW15, Martindale Road SW12, Salterford Road SW17, Weiss Road SW15.

2 thoughts on “The Big Lunch in Shaftesbury Park?

  1. I have organised our party. It took very little time, apart from having to deal with Wandsworth Council

    Here’s how I did it:

    1. designed letter telling the street about the party and asking for their support
    2. delivered letter to 110 houses inviting them to a meeting
    held meeting with 15 neighbours, some of which I had never met before; get response from 150 people on street that they want to take part in the party…yeah!!
    3. spent about over 15 hours dealing with Wandsworth Council asking for their co-operation on the road closure. one call lasted an hour, and involved the guy telling me that I had to submit a road management strategy document, hire road signs (but it was up to me to research which legal road sign I should use), inform the necessary emergency services, again, refusal to help identify which people I needed to speak to. Too tedious to relate whole story, wish I had taped some of the conversations, they were hilarious (one involve the guy talking about how we needed insurance in case anyone ‘burnt their mouth on a sausage…unlikely to happen to my Muslim neighbours but I’ll keep a watch out on the day) but it went on for 2 months and was an utterly negative and draining experience. I am in contact with another street organiser who has had exactly the same experience, and resulted in us both having to engage with Sadiq Khan to help us out. Council refuse to give transparency on the £1,200 cost we are sharing between 5/6/7 street (they are vague about this). We believe it is a mixture of costs for a newspaper ad to tell people that a residential street in Balham will be closed for 4 hours on a Sunday afternoon and ‘admin’. The Big Lunch have been working with local councils for 2 years on this project, and Wandsworth are coming through as the most inflexible and unsupportive. The main person I have been dealing with has been very offensive about the whole project, and called the Big Lunch organisers a bunch of idiots who didn’t know what they were doing.
    4. feel very demotivated that everyone in the street is up for this but energy draining having to keep communicating with such negative people at Wandsworth Council
    5. collect money from street to cover the cost of placing ad in paper, would have been wonderful for the party not to have had a cost attached to it as it is our street
    6. resolve to just reclaim the street next year…

    • First of all, my apologies for taking so long in responding to this comment. There were some serious allegations made and I wanted to investigate them fully before making them.

      Second, my apologies that you do not feel the council has been helpful. Obviously organising an event like this can be time-consuming and stressful. I’m sorry that you feel the council have added to this.

      I would like to respond to the criticisms made in point 3, the council cannot confirm that you spent ‘over about 15 hours’ dealing with them over the phone, since those sort of records are not kept. However, as you illustrate in your comment a road closure is not simply a case of blocking off a road for a few hours, the council has to follow a legal procedure, consideration has to be made of the effect of that closure on other traffic and emergency vehicle access if needed. This is further complicated when a number of roads may be closing, since the overall effect needs to be considered. The council holds a duty of care towards all residents, whether they are partaking in The Big Lunch or not – and need to ensure that events are properly, and safely, organised.

      With regard to the cost the council couldn’t be specific about how many streets would be sharing the cost, since not all had confirmed they were going ahead. You are right, however, the costs basically consist of the ad we are required to take-out in the local paper (which consumes the lion’s share of the fee) and the council’s administration. I’m guessing from point 5 that you feel you should not have had to pay any fee. However, I am not sure everyone else should have to pay for the few street parties taking place. Given that the admin costs would come to somewhere between £1-2 per person, I do not think it is unreasonable to ask people to contribute towards their own party. Wandsworth is far from alone in charging a fee (and I suspect probably in the majority).

      The insurance aspect seems to be fairly common practice. I know other London boroughs require organisers to arrange their own insurance. Indeed, I note the Big Lunch were promoting a deal they had arranged to provide a special rate to organisers – which suggests that an insurance requirement is common nationwide.

      Finally, I am sorry to hear that you feel the council has been negative. Certainly with regards to the officer responsible it would be totally out-of-character with a long period of service with the council and can only assume that there has been some misinterpretation of comments. I did follow up with The Big Lunch directly, but they did not corroborate your claim that Wandsworth is the worst council – indeed, they seemed positive about the way we are handling it.

      And it just isn’t fair to suggest the council is ‘negative’, other parts of the council are involved in The Big Lunch (for example, the Community Safety Division have been invited and are attending one to provide crime prevention advice to residents).

      I rather doubt I will change your view of the council. But hope that you have a successful day, the weather certainly looks like it will hold for the weekend.

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