Community potlucks: Shared meals help build deep ties among residents in Totnes

Since 2013, the Network of Wellbeing, where I work, has hosted community potlucks in Totnes, a small town in the south of England. These potlucks, which are open to all, have been helping build friendships among residents since day one. We started the potlucks because we realized that there weren't many avenues for local community members to participate in events that are accessible, affordable, and family-friendly. The community potlucks take place on the third Friday of each month at the local church hall. The premise is quite simple: just bring some food to share. Around 50-100 people of all ages, including children, attend these events. During holidays and festivals, the potlucks have attracted around 300 people. Often there is entertainment, such as live music, poetry readings, children's activities, wool spinning, or cooking demonstrations that are led by local volunteers.

"It has been wonderful to see the Community Potlucks go from strength to strength, and help transform the town in the process," says Larch Maxey, Network of Wellbeing's community project manager. "When we started, very few people had even heard of a potluck, let alone been to one, now it's become the default whenever an organization meets, when people have a party, or celebration, it’s a potluck."

For five years, the Network of Wellbeing took responsibility for organizing the community potlucks, but recently, a group of local residents has taken on this responsibility. Now, the potlucks are run by the community for the community, Wendy Douglas, one of the volunteer coordinators, says. "Potluck suppers are a wonderful community event, open to everyone, and costing no more than the contents of the homemade pot of food for you," she says. "It's a great opportunity to meet other locals over a plate of delicious food. No need to be lonely or eat alone when there are events like this to attend. The Totnes Community Potluck has enabled me to meet many like-minded people, and I enjoy my involvement as a volunteer.  I hope it will continue well into the future."

The initiative is also helping tackle social isolation, one of the greatest issues of our times. "I love the simplicity of potlucks — open to everyone and a great way to help bring people together," Maxey says. "Loneliness is as bad for us as smoking, and potlucks are a great way to connect people and overcome loneliness."

If you are inspired by the idea of the community potlucks, but are unable to attend the regular events in Totnes, you could launch a similar event in your local community. If this is of interest, then check out the Network of Wellbeing's Community Potluck Guidelines, which provide you with all of the information and inspiration needed to successfully organize these community-building events.  "We're also happy to speak with you about our experience of this event, and provide any guidance that may be helpful," Maxey says. Please get in touch with Maxey at larch@networkfowellbeing.org for any support you may need.

Have you listened to our new podcast "The Response"? It's a riveting look into how communities help each other out after deadly natural disasters. Listen here:

Images provided by Network of Wellbeing

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