29 February 2016

Why not have a street party?

Every year The Big Lunch encourage streets to eat and party together. This year the Big Lunch coincides with the Queen’s 90th birthday. So we asked local resident Oliver Kerr how to throw a street party!
So you think it would be nice to hold a street party. You want to increase that sense of community and get to know more of your neighbours. What do you do?

First you talk to a few neighbours and see if they agree. If enough of you are keen then why not give it a go?

Since we arrived in our street 18 years ago we have had 8 street parties – one impromptu (and slightly illegal) one for the Queen's Golden Jubilee and 7 under the inspiration of The Big Lunch, an organisation that has been encouraging people to hold street parties on one day in the summer since 2009. The aim is to boost the feeling of local community spirit. This year the big day is 12 June to coincide with the Queen's 90th birthday celebrations, but usually it is the first Sunday in June.

How much effort is involved in running a street party? Our experience with the Golden Jubilee showed us that it did not take much. That day started off in the morning with someone cooking some bacon and egg sandwiches on a camping stove, and all the small children running around. People drifted along, brought out some tea, and blocked off a bit of the road with cars so the children could play more safely (yes, this was a bit illegal, but the police didn't seem to mind). As the day progressed more food and drink magically appeared, along with garden furniture, and yet more people. Nearly all the street was involved, a great time was had and no planning was involved.

Over the years things have got a bit more organised, but not much. People bring along food and drink to share, and always seem to bring quite a variety. We find that you do not need to organize who brings what. If you run out of anything there is bound to be someone who will pop indoors and sort it out. Tables are very useful, we borrow ours from a school. Shelter for the food is also recommended. Rain can spoil food, but people are quite waterproof, so a gazebo or two is very useful – it has rained on all but two of our parties. Some bunting is nice. We have accumulated a good collection over the years.

You may want music and games. Both can be a good idea, but not my field of expertise. As with most things to do with a street party, there are bound to be neighbours who are keen to organise these, and who will know what to do. Don't feel you have to do everything.

One important decision is where to hold your event. If you want to close your street and have the party in the middle of the road then a bit more organisation is required. You let Lewisham Council know which section of road you would like to close, and hopefully they will give you approval to go ahead with the application. You then have to collect signatures from your neighbours declaring they don't object to the road closure. This is also a good way of spreading the word – leaflets through the door can just end up in the bin unread. The Council doesn't charge anything, and has always proved to be friendly and helpful in their support of The Big Lunch.

You will have to provide appropriate “Road Closed” signs. If you don't want to close a street, then life is simpler. You can hold your party wherever you have space – in someone's garden, in the grounds around your flats, or in a hall.

The Big Lunch web pages are full of useful guidance. They can send you information packs. Lewisham Council has a web page for The Big Lunch that gives information about obtaining street closures, the time-scales involved, and who to contact for help and guidance.



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