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Bringing back the Great British – and local – community spirit

Bringing back the Great British – and local – community spirit

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With plans well and truly underway for national celebrations to mark the Queen’s official birthday over the weekend of 11th-12th June, we look back on the history of the street party and why we love ’em, forging new friendships with the chance for our community to celebrate and give tips on how you can organise your locals get-together for the Queen’s 90th!

The British love a good party and while Her Majesty the Queen celebrated her (actual) 90th birthday on 21st April, the real celebrations get underway on her official birthday weekend in June, kicking off with a giant street party on The Mall – The Patron’s Lunch – with 10,000 guests enjoying a picnic lunch and alfresco entertainment from street performers and circus acts.

Guests will be served a hamper-style meal at trestle tables arranged in four rows down the length of The Mall while the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will take part in the event from a specially-built platform on the Queen Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace.

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© Shaun Jeffers / Shutterstock.com

Giant screens in Green Park and St James’s Park will relay the events for those who have not been lucky enough to get a ticket through the public ballot system.

The Duke of Cambridge and his brother, Prince Harry, who are joint presidents of the event, will be among the guests, together with other members of the royal family. As well as thanking the Queen for her lifetime of service, the lunch on The Mall will raise money for a newly-created Patron’s Charity, which will raise funds for the good causes the Queen supports.

On a local level, the people of the United Kingdom are also being invited to run their own street parties, to breathe life back into the great British community spirit. But where do these communal gatherings have their roots – and how can you get involved?

A British Tradition

The uniquely British tradition of a sit-down street party has its roots as far back as 1919, when Peace Teas were held to celebrate the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. They were especially for children who hadn’t enjoyed many treats since the start of the First World War and since parties were held during times of austerity, food would have been simple. But this marked the notion of sitting up at the table, en masse.

Since then, royal weddings, coronations and other major national days of importance have inspired neighbours across the UK to share food, drink, music – and most importantly, to get to know each other, in an effort to boost community spirit: VE Day (Victory in Europe 1945), the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II (despite the ongoing rationing, households were given an extra pound of sugar and 4oz of margarine for the celebrations), England’s sporting victory at the 1966 World Cup, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 – when a record 10 million people turned out – and the 1981 Royal Wedding of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer.

1953-Wordsworth-Rd-Lockleaze-BristolOne of the biggest Diamond Jubilee street parties of 2012 spanned the River Thames from Oxfordshire to Berkshire when approximately 4,000 residents from Goring to Streatley lined up tables to share a lunch of epic proportions. Alcester in Warwickshire, meanwhile, claimed to hold the largest party to celebrate Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding in 2011, with people invited to fill the entire length of the high street for an informal picnic.

In his sermon at the Diamond Jubilee Thanksgiving Service in St Paul’s Cathedral, the then Archbishop of Canterbury hoped that the lasting memorial of the Diamond Jubilee would be a rebirth of “an energetic, generous spirit of dedication to the common good”. Quoting Romans 12 he added: “Outdo one another in showing honour, extend hospitality to strangers, rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep, live in harmony with one another…” This sense of harmony is one shared by Peter Stewart, Eden Project’s Campaigns and Communications Director: “At the heart of many communities, churches are fantastically placed to bring people together. The Big Lunch offers the chance for members to reach out to others in the community and put their faith into action.”

King’s Mile celebrates

Steeped in history, Canterbury’s King’s Mile hosted its first street party last September, to celebrate the various developments including a new pedestrian-friendly street layout in The Borough and Northgate.

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© Emily Whitefield, Wicks Photography

Funded by a £500,000 investment from developers, organisers hoped to attract even more visitors to the city’s historic and beautiful streets, and in total, 45 businesses came together and many of the shops took their businesses out onto the street. Amongst the attractions was food from around the world, a chance to handle some exotic snakes, free face-painting and music.

Ortwin Thyssen, Chair of the King’s Mile Traders Association, explained: “The King’s Mile is a fascinating part of Canterbury and the street party was a great opportunity to shout about the most creative quarter of the city.”

The King’s Mile is a collection of streets nestling beneath the spires of the city’s ancient cathedral and alongside the King’s School, and is a haven for anyone seeking the taste and feel of real Canterbury. The ‘independent quarter’, as it’s known, includes historic Sun Street, Palace Street, Guildhall Street, Orange Street, named after William of Orange, The Borough, and Northgate, formerly a gate to the walled city.

It is perfect for a quiet pint of local beer in one of the many pubs, wine and fine English dining at Deeson’s, tapas, wood-fired pizza, patisserie, Belgian beer… even coffee in the ancient Norman undercroft from 12th century Canterbury, where the four Knights Templar Reginald Fitzurse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy, and Richard le Breton were said to have met on 29th December 1170, before going on to assassinate Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral.

Community Spirit

Kent MP and Communities Secretary Greg Clark is urging councils and local people to get involved by setting up their own Patron’s Lunches and street parties across the country. To help communities, the government has revised and re-launched its street party guidance, providing a checklist and offering practical advice to anyone planning their own street party, busting popular myths and providing information on how to apply for a road closure, playing music, insurance and fundraising.

Mr Clark explained: “The Queen’s 90th birthday is a truly national event and provides a great chance for all of us to reflect on the extraordinary service Her Majesty has given this country for more than six decades. The Patron’s Lunch on The Mall will be a fitting way to celebrate this historic milestone – but your community can get involved and honour the Queen through your own street party too. Our new guidance provides easy, step-by-step advice on how you can get your picnic benches set up, table cloths down and be part of the nationwide celebrations. There were almost 10,000 applications to councils to hold street parties for the Diamond Jubilee.”

1919-peace-tea-Fulham-London-Close-UpAs local roads are closed for street parties, the freedom it offers children should not be underestimated, as well reducing childhood obesity, improving socialisation, encouraging children to make stronger ties and to take risks.
Away from traffic fumes and the fear of ‘stranger danger’, children playing outside helps to improve community.

Playstreets – roads where children can play freely and safely – are nothing new. Legislation, created in the 1930s and still active, creates regular, temporary play space on residential streets by restricting traffic to resident access between specified hours of the day. In the early Sixties there were 750 playstreets in England and Wales.

The Big Lunch

The Eden Project’s Lottery-funded initiative, The Big Lunch, aims to bring together as many people as possible across the whole of the UK to have lunch with their neighbours annually, on a date in June, in a simple act of community, friendship and fun. After they reported that only one in three Britons makes the effort to introduce themselves to neighbours when moving into a new home, thousands of Big Lunches have taken place in all types of communities since 2009. Last year’s event encouraged more than 7.29 million people to hang up the bunting and share their sausage rolls.

To coincide with the Queen’s birthday Patron’s Lunch, this year’s celebrations will take place on Sunday 12th June and Big Lunch founder, Sir Tim Smit KBE, hopes to encourage 10 million people to take part, claiming it to be the perfect way to create ‘Human Warming’!

Prepare to Party

MP for Tunbridge Wells and Communities Secretary Greg Clark is also urging councils and local people to get involved by setting up their own Patron’s Lunches and street parties across the country.

North-Deli--goodTo help communities, the government has revised and re-launched its street party guidance, providing a checklist and offering practical advice to anyone planning their own street party, busting popular myths and providing information on how to apply for a road closure, playing music, insurance and fundraising.

Greg Clark explained: “The Queen’s 90th birthday is a truly national event and provides a great chance for all of us to reflect on the extraordinary service Her Majesty has given this country for more than six decades. The Patron’s Lunch on The Mall will be a fitting way to celebrate this historic milestone – but your community can get involved and honour the Queen through your own street party too.

“Our new guidance provides easy, step-by-step advice on how you can get your picnic benches set up, table cloths down and be part of the nationwide celebrations. There were almost 10,000 applications to councils to hold street parties for the Diamond Jubilee.”

As local roads are closed for street parties, the freedom it offers children should not be underestimated, as well reducing childhood obesity, improving socialisation, encouraging children to make stronger ties and to take risks. Away from traffic fumes and the fear of ‘stranger danger’, children playing outside helps to improve community.

Playstreets – roads where children can play freely and safely – are nothing new. Legislation, created in the 1930s and still active, creates regular, temporary play space on residential streets by restricting traffic to resident access between specified hours of the day. In the early Sixties there were 750 Play Streets in England and Wales.

Did you know?

2014 research from The Big Lunch revealed that:

  • 85%of people said their Big Lunch made them feel better about their neighbourhood
  • 86% of people feel closer to their neighbours after their Big Lunch
  • 89% of people plan to keep in touch with new people they met
  • 97% would recommend The Big Lunch to friends and family

Useful contacts

Words Sophie Astin
Main image licensed by Ingram Image

Read our top tips for organising your Patron’s Lunch on June 12th here

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