Our Big Lunch: a recipe for volunteering success

This weekend communities across Scotland came together for The Big Lunch, an idea by the Eden Project and made possible by National Lottery players. Joining them was our Communications Manager, Landa Sullivan, who was invited to one very special Big Lunch gathering with some equally special volunteers… 

Edinburgh Garden Partners (EGP) is a National Lottery funded charity I’d heard good things about but it wasn’t until this weekend that the scope of what they do and the people they support really hit home to me.

Armed with my invite to their first ever Big Lunch I walked into the homely Botanic Cottage in Edinburgh with my camera, pen and notepad ready to work and engage in polite conversation.

But three hours later, I’d forgotten that I was part of anything other than this fabulous community of volunteers who welcomed me with tea, cake and some tasty walnut bolognese. I met new people, I sampled new food and I got some great gardening tips (who knew you should thoroughly soak the roots of a new plant before you put it in the soil?) But  most of all I was inspired by the stories of those volunteers and garden owners who have been matched by EGP as part of a gardening movement that’s sweeping the city.

Just ask volunteer and EGP Board Member Nicola Hancock, 28, who tells me: “Gardening is a passion of mine but volunteering is up there too.” Explaining why she wanted to become a volunteer helping older people to maintain their gardens, Nicola says:

Nicola Hancock, volunteer, talking with a friend
Nicola (right) chatting with a fellow volunteer

“Growing up in Hong Kong there were many high rise buildings and very little garden space. During the summers I would come to the UK to visit my grandma and she instilled in me a passion for gardening.”

Nicola was matched with 92-year-old Betty whose lack of mobility means she is unable to maintain her garden herself or, unfortunately, attend today’s lunch.  As well as using her green fingers to keep Betty’s garden in tip top condition, Nicola enjoys the befriending aspect of the project.  “Even in the winter I’ll try to pop round regularly to say hi to Betty and see how she is doing”, she says.

Across the room, 70 year old Carol Logan is busy swapping email addresses with 82 year old Nicola Crosbie. The two women have just met for the first time having struck up a conversation over the lunch table.

Carol, who walks with the aid of two sticks, tells me: “I’ve been helped by Edinburgh Garden partners for a few years now. After my husband John died in 2014 I struggled to maintain my garden but thanks to local volunteers it has now been restored from a wilderness into a lovely welcoming space. For me it’s not just about having a nice garden though, it’s also about making friends and having a good chat with the young people.”

Two women exchanging email addresses
Carol and Nicola swapping contact details

Before I leave I also speak to 37-year-old Ross Holman who has been maintaining an acre garden with five fellow volunteers and I chat with new volunteer Javier Pena, 23, who is meeting the wider EGP family for the first time today.

They along with everyone else here are enjoying the food, laughter and good conversation that the Big Lunch represents. They remind me that volunteering and community go hand in hand and in the midst of Volunteering Week 2019 I leave the EGP Big Lunch inspired by a project that creates a sense of belonging through a shared gardening experience.

Edinburgh Garden Partners received £60,000 from the National Lottery Community Fund to extend its gardening partnership model matching older garden owners with volunteers looking for a shared space to grow.  Find out more about their work here

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