Once a year, on one hopefully sunny day, people across Ireland get together with their neighbours to celebrate Street Feast. They put up a table in the front garden or close a whole street to make room for one long table. They put up bunting and meet to share food, drinks and chat.
It’s a very simple idea that happens in many ways in countries across the world. In Ireland, there may have been neighbourhood meals happening before Sam Bishop and his team came up with the idea for Street Feast, but there certainly weren’t as many. Having a designated day, that’s celebrated across the country, gives people the inspiration and the permission they need to celebrate the place where they live, together.
Not only are there more Street Feasts happening now, the Feasts are also getting bigger with more participants attending each year. The average number of people joining a Street Feast is now 92.
These numbers alone are impressive, but the key question is: What actually changes if 1,200 people organise a neighbourhood gathering once a year? What good does it do? Why is it worth the effort of Sam and his team to make it happen and is it worth the financial investment that makes it possible?
How do you measure the impact of a national Street Feast
The primary goal of Street Feast is to create connections between neighbours that can lead to more resilient and happier neighbourhoods. So how do you measure the value of a new connection being made?
In 2019, Street Feast carried out a survey among all hosts to measure the success of Street Feast beyond the number of people involved. Of 1,115 hosts, 251 answered the survey, about half of these had hosted a Street Feast for the very first time.
The results demonstrate clear positive outcomes of a Street Feast for both the hosts and their neighbours:
1. People know their neighbours better
Irrespective of whether someone has hosted a Feast before, Street Feast delivers on what it promises: It helps people to get to know their neighbours. It’s not just people getting together who would meet and talk to each other anyway. Everyone who answered the survey said, after hosting a Feast, they knew their neighbours better than before.
On a scale from 1 to 10, the average number increases from 5.9 to 8.1 when asked, how well people know their neighbours.
Sarah Duku, for example had lived in her neighbourhood in Drogheda for 10 years when she decided to host a Street Feast for the first time in 2019.
“I spend most of my time outside my community due to work so I knew just one or two people in my street. Around 50 people came along to the Street Feast, in a street of about 50 houses. It was the first time I organised this, I really wanted it to happen and it was so fulfilling. I was so afraid that I would get a cold reception when knocking on people’s doors but it was the opposite, people are really interested in knowing their neighbours and everyone thanked me for bringing us together.”
Sarah’s Streetfeast in Drogheda
Knowing your neighbours might be something we take for granted or something that doesn’t sound all that significant but research shows that knowing your neighbours can have a significant impact on your mental health and wellbeing.
2. People feel safer in their neighbourhood after hosting a Feast and develop a greater sense of belonging
“It makes you feel part of a community and I feel safer because I know who is living next door and I can call in if there is something wrong.”
Explains Gemma Corrigan who hosted her second Street Feast in Clontarf, Dublin in 2019 with 11 families joining in.
“The other day the electricity here went and I went over to my next-door neighbours on both sides to ask about it. I wouldn’t have done that before.”
In fact, 80% of all Street Feasters say, their neighbourhood feels safer after hosting a Street Feast. 97% say it feels generally friendlier to them than it did before.
It’s a bit like an insurance policy – if you’re lucky, you might not need it very often, but knowing it’s there gives you peace of mind. Sarah Duku felt similar after her first Street Feast:
“I feel good that now if anything happens to me, it’s not strange to help each other. Our families are living far away, so your neighbour is the first one to call. And my neighbours can also count on me.”
But she also points out that the Street Feast made a difference for her sense of belonging:
“I feel at home here now. Home away from home. I feel secure. I feel accepted. I feel wanted.”
Gemma also feels more connected to her neighbours, knowing who they are and that they share some struggles:
“It’s good to know about each other’s situations. Some of us are working full-time, others are stay-at-home-mums. It’s nice to see we are all in the same boat. It’s nice to meet people who live near to you and just chat about your kids.
Studies have shown highly significant correlations between feeling a greater sense of belonging, helping neighbours more and feeling lonely less often, and better mental wellbeing scores. Reports have shown that the less socially fragmented a place is, the better the mental health score for the people that live there.*
3. People get more involved in local issues
Marie Nolan was involved with her community before hosting her Street Feast, helping to set up a community garden in Cork City, on top of an unused basketball court. The Street Feast is the annual opportunity to open the garden for a community gathering and get more people to come along and find out about the garden, people who usually would just walk past or wouldn’t realise it was there for them too.
“For the first time this year some people from the Cork migrant centre joined our Street Feast, they were also playing music and we collected donations. One Kenyan chap from the migrant centre now comes in and helps every now and then. He says he used to love growing but doesn’t have much space to do so now living in Cork.”
Many of the hosts don’t have a history of community involvement. This often changes once they’ve invited neighbours to a Street Feast. When asked if their involvement in the community increased or decreased as a result of the Street Feast, 57% say it has increased. 81% are working on new plans for community projects, also saying that these plans were a result of the Street Feast.
Gemma Corrigan, reflecting on her Street Feast, got intrigued by the idea of also organising a Playful Street:
“After our Street Feast, people started to use the small park where we hosted the Feast more than they did before. Some people were not aware of it at all and now kids go down there to play more often. In addition, I think it would be a great idea to close the street for play regularly so it’s something that everyone knows is happening and everyone can just come out and someone is there.”
Looking at ChangeX data from all registered Street Feasters over the last four years, 10 percent of hosts are involved with one of the other 55 ideas that are part of ChangeX in Ireland.
An incredible 98.9% of Street Feasters say they’d do it again. Gemma and Sarah for instance, both have another Feast planned for later in the year. “Why wait another year to do this again?”
How does this contribute to wider social and environmental issues?
“For all of us to survive and prosper, we need new, intelligent urban planning that creates safe, affordable and resilient cities with green and culturally inspiring living conditions.” This sentence describes Goal 11 of the Global Development Goals, “Sustainable Cities and Communities “.
Hosting or attending a Street Feast might seem like a small thing in the face of the often overwhelming social and environmental challenges we face. But the type of outcomes Street Feast generates are actually fundamental to building happier, more resilient communities.
On one Summer’s Sunday, Street Feast transforms streets, laneways and greens across the country into safe, inclusive spaces for people to gather and share. It allows us to see these spaces in a new light, transforming their possibility and their potential. As many more people live in urban areas now, maintaining these safe and inclusive spaces through ideas like Street Feast can help each of us to contribute to more resilient and more inspiring cities, towns and local communities.
Allowing people to feel happier and more secure in the place where they live and helping people to build more meaningful connections in their neighbourhood can contribute significantly to happiness, wellbeing and positive mental health. At a time when social isolation and loneliness among all demographics is reported to be on the rise, ideas like Street Feast are more important than ever.
Big thanks to the Street Feast team for allowing us to access the data they’ve gathered this summer.
Reference & Further Reading
*Sandstrom, G. 2013. Social interactions and wellbeing: the surprising power of weak ties. Accessed here: https://open.library.ubc.ca/cIRcle/collections/ubctheses/24/items/1.0074024
More research & literature review in this area: Closing The Distance Between Us – Carried out by Happy City
Image courtesy of Gemma Corrigan, Sarah Duku and Marie Nolan.