During this celebratory period, individuals in Sunderland are actively participating in a fresh endeavour that promotes reaching out and fostering connections within their local communities.

With new data showing that one-third (33%) of UK adults have cut back on socialising due to high living costs, Eden Project Communities has launched Winter Warmers, calling on people to join in with simple, affordable activities to light up their communities and spread joy during the colder months.

Activities suggested as part of the campaign include holding a Big Lunch at Christmas, setting up a reverse advent calendar, creating an advent window display, setting up a Winter Dig or joining in with Mince Hi – which invites people to reach out and say hello in their community using mince pies or other festive food.

Despite people cutting back, Eden Project Communities’ YouGov survey has proven the nation’s love of festive food and social traditions. Two-thirds (65%) of people in the UK agree that mince pies give them a festive feeling before Christmas and over half (56%) say sharing festive food is important to their well-being, as do over half (57%) who felt festive socialising is important. 

Wishing to lift community spirits and light up communities by spreading human warmth and festive cheer, the Mince Hi is deliberately simple so that anyone can join in. The choice of festive food for the Mince Hi was inspired by the 22 million people (43%) who agree that mince pies are affordable. With a large proportion of the population agreeing that mince pies give them a festive feeling, the traditional sweet treat beats off stiff competition including turkey sandwiches, which less than a third of people (30%) said made them feel festive, and brussels sprouts, chosen by only a quarter of people (26%).

This initiative comes at a time when further YouGov data showed that people and communities are continuing to struggle with high living costs, leading to fewer social opportunities which can exacerbate stress and feelings of loneliness. Around half (49%) of those who have already cut back on socialising say they are experiencing more anxiety as a result.

In Houghton-le-Spring, Kate Welch and her team of staff and volunteers are lighting up their community this Christmas, Kate runs The Old Rectory, an initiative providing space and support for local community groups and social enterprises. The Grade 2* listed building houses everything from a youth group to Houghton-le-Spring Residents, a gardening group and a theatre club, as well as providing vital services offering food and a warm space to those in the community who need it. This winter, Rectory Park’s historic tradition of winter lights has returned, with illuminations open for everyone to enjoy until 2 January. Houghton-le-Spring Residents brought the community together for an amazing carol-aoke, and Christmas Kids in the Park last weekend and the Old Rectory will also be holding their very own Big Lunch at Christmas on 19 December, when local people are set to come together for an afternoon filled with delicious festive food, craft activities and celebration of friendship and community spirit. 

Kate Welch, Chair of The Old Rectory, said: “Community is so important during the colder months, which is why we’re delighted to be joining in with Eden’s Winter Warmers campaign. We’re passionate about everyone in our community being able to join in no matter how much money they have and this winter it’s been fantastic to see so many families and friends coming together to share food, make friends and have fun.”

Eden Project, who are the people behind the annual community celebration The Big Lunch, made possible by The National Lottery, is responding to the crisis of connection by supporting people with simple activities that anyone can take part in where they live.

Lindsey Brummitt, Eden Project’s programme director overseeing the Winter Warmers campaign, said: “When finances are overstretched, people are forced to cut back, but we’re urging them not to cut back on friendship! Spending time together can light up the dark winter months, which can feel especially necessary when the weather is cold and the days are shorter. Everyone benefits from human warmth and social connections, so we’re encouraging communities across the country to make the effort and plan something sociable this winter.” 

Low-waste chef Max La Manna and Bake-Off stars including Syabira Yusoff, Manon Lagreve, Rahul Mandal, Martha Collison and Lizzie Acker have donated festive recipes for people to rustle up and share around. Iceland and The Food Warehouse is supporting, and social initiative Warm Welcome is offering community spaces for Mince Hi and Big Lunch at Christmas activities UK-wide.

Manon Lagreve, Great British Bake-Off star and chef, said: “Sharing food is an amazing way to start conversations, find common ground and celebrate together, and there’s no better time to do it than during the festive season. This year, I’m backing the Winter Warmer campaign and calling on people to grab a plate of mince pies, knock on their neighbour’s door and spread some festive cheer!”

Winter Warmers is a campaign from Eden Project Communities, the people behind The Big Lunch and Month of Community made possible by The National Lottery.

For recipes, ideas and resources visit edenprojectcommunities.com/winter-warmers and download everything you need to light up your community this winter.

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