Big Lunch Extra – Elaine Hawkins

When I was accepted onto the Big Lunch Extra (BLE) camp held in November at the Eden Project in Cornwall, I had little idea what to expect from the 4 day weekend.   As I write this blog in late December 2014, I still feel that I am processing my experience of the event.   The organisers were intent on creating an event that inspired us to go back to our different corners of the UK as disciples for the pleasures of community collaboration, committed to community activism (as opposed to ‘volunteerism’),  accessing our creativity to build and strengthen our communities.   BLE events can be so many different things to different people and the November camp was 80 strong.

A good proportion of the participants had already had experience of organising a ‘Big Lunch’ in their street although others were, like myself, much newer to the ‘big lunch’ idea but brought experiences of developing initiatives such as friendship networks, community gardening and food schemes, gay and lesbian projects, home education networks, to name just a few.   Some were there simply to look for ideas about what they might do to build a stronger sense of ‘community’ in their own neighbourhood.    At different sittings my colleague and I introduced the concept of cohousing to our various audiences.  The concept went down well as cohousing principles have, at its heart, aims of encouraging collaboration, stimulating exploration of more creative and sustainable ways of living, and working towards the reduction of isolation and loneliness.

BLE participants at the Eden Project
BLE participants walk the labyrinth-walk at the Eden Project

What the staging of the Big Lunch Extra ‘boot camp’ and the passion and enthusiasm it generated amongst organisers and participants alike conveyed to me was the existence of a wider-held, cross-generational and urgent desire to address feelings of fragmentation, lack of creativity and wastefulness in 21st century urban living.  I was ‘expelled’ from ‘Eden’ with some ideas for activities that might work well for Cohousing Woodside’s group building efforts.   Perhaps my most enduring reflection was of the way in which the gradual evolution of cohousing seems to be coming into alignment with a newer ‘energy of the moment’,  an energy inspired by past environmental and political campaigns but which urgently seeks to translate into contemporary practice for more satisfying ways of living in our multi-cultural society.

For anyone interested in attending a Big Lunch Extra Camp, details can be found at:


Is society ready for its growing ageing population?

Guardian research aims to assess how well the UK is responding to demographic change

The Guardian is launching a new survey, which aims to assess how well the UK is responding to demographic change – and whether older citizens’ skills and knowledge are being harnessed.

The proportion of people aged 60 or over in the UK population is projected to grow steadily in the years ahead, while some experts have suggested that one in two of today’s toddlers is likely to live beyond 100. Yet a powerful report last year warned that the UK was “woefully underprepared” for the consequences of its ageing population.  And there are few signs that the policymakers have grasped the scale and urgency of the challenge presented by this demographic change.

SocietyGuardian has launched a major project looking at how the UK is responding to the challenges and opportunities of the growing number of older people. The Big Ageing Population Debate – supported by British Red Cross, Hanover, Independent Age and PA Consulting – has been exploring how public services adapt to meet increasing demand from older people, and how to recognise and celebrate older people’s contribution to their communities.  They would like to hear from older people and their families and carers, from professionals working with older people and from interested members of the public.  In particular, they would like views on society’s perceptions of older people, the political response to changing demographics, and how people would like their own older age to be. The survey will take no more than 5 -10 minutes to complete. The findings will be published on the SocietyGuardian website in early 2015.

Visit to Springhill: Reflections of a cohousing ‘novice’


As a relatively new Cohousing Woodside member, I jumped at the opportunity to attend an Open afternoon at Spring Hill Cohousing in Stroud, Gloucestershire. On a cold wet late autumn day, I carefully followed the route from Stroud railway station. That said, it was impossible to resist a detour into Stroud farmers’ market where stalls, dripping with rain, were already evidence of a vibrant wider community where organic food, locally produced crafts and other creative enterprises were a regular feature in the town.

The tiny entry gate to Springhill itself was not a measure of the warm welcome I received as I found my way up to third floor of Springhill’s co-house.  We were a small group of visitors, initially met by three residents.  I had come wanting to learn more about the challenges and pleasures of being part of a cohousing community; their press cuttings and photographs not only told an intriguing story of Springhill’s development but also recorded some of the challenges of getting planning permission and of allaying the concerns of the wider community.

What Springhill was sharing affirmed what I was coming to understand about Cohousing Woodside’s development to date – cohousing project evolution was neither a quick nor a straightforward process.  It required patience and a willingness to be tolerant of times of huge uncertainty interspersed with a readiness to be pro-active when circumstances required. Springhill affirmed that this process can have clear and positive outcomes.

As we were treated by our guide to viewings of two houses and one flat, along with an opportunity to talk to their owners, I was inspired by how these homes were a direct representation of the cohousing ideal of providing individual dwellings within a sharing neighbourhood.  Each resident had developed the design of the inside of their home in line with their own needs, interests and vision. The co-house was a hub for regular eating together and the commitment to contribute to cooking once a month, as part of the opportunity to share an evening meal three times a week, seemed a well-established and welcome part of shared community living.


Over tea and cakes at the end of the afternoon – all home-made and brought to the co-house by different residents – I asked specifically about how each resident would express what they saw as one key challenge and one key pleasure of living in a cohousing community. I was then introduced to the three ‘p’s : parenting, parking and people! Living in community with other people, it was widely agreed, was the source of enormous pleasure but also, simultaneously, sometimes the source of challenge. That said, the Springhill residents I met were unequivocal in their commitment to finding the processes through which to address challenges and in their celebration of the mutual benefits of living in a Cohousing community. Their commitment was certainly infectious and I came away appreciative of the insights I had been given, and more aware of both the shared and different possibilities and challenges for Cohousing Woodside as we continue our journey towards establishing our Muswell Hill community.

If you wish to visit Springhill you are invited to contact their visitor coordinator at: