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The Eden Project launches its Big Walk at The Big Issue

Zakia Moulaoui and Derek Harper met with vendors past and present in Edinburgh before setting off on their journey north

BIG LUNCH VISIT

A team of changemakers met with vendors in Edinburgh today to kick off their epic two-week walk across Scotland in an effort to promote the Eden Project‘s Big Lunch initiative.

The Big Issue office was visited by Zakia Moulaoui, founder of homelessness-experienced tour guide company Invisible Cities and Derek Harper, a former greenkeeper and pub manager whose life was changed by volunteering.

They’re Team Scotland, one of four groups of walkers who will make their way through towns and villages for the next two weeks to visit and showcase grassroots community projects. It’s hoped that their trekking efforts will inspire enough community spirit that people right across Britain will take part in the Eden Project’s Big Lunch on June 1 and 2 – when people will organise events in their local streets and parks to share food and get to know their neighbours. On average, six million people get involved each year.

The pair embarked on their trip by visiting places around Edinburgh which reflect Moulaoui’s involvement with her local community. This included Edinburgh Garden Partners, a project that connects up people who have gardens but cannot look after them with people with green fingers who don’t have gardens; and the Edinburgh Royal Community Gardens, run by the Cyrenians charity, which is widely used by patients, their visitors, volunteers and the local community.

They also visited Social Bite, where Moulaoui used to work; The Big Issue, where she recruits for Invisible Cities; and Leith Walk Police Box, in which Invisible Cities recently set up their Street Barber Edinburgh project giving hair cuts to homeless men; and the Grassmarket Community Project, which teaches skills to homeless people and those with additional needs.

At the Big Issue office, the team met with former vendor Angus who previously handed in his tabard to train with Moulaoui and held his first tour yesterday on the Royal Mile. They also heard from current vendor George, who said he thinks the walking project is “very good”, adding: “I think anything that reminds people to look out for each other is important. I was very happy to be asked to go along.”

He told the team about his experiences selling The Big Issue, explaining that he loves being part of the community and that selling the magazine helps him connect with other local people.

Invisible Cities’ Moulaoui, fresh from winning Tourism Business of the Year at the Business Scotland Awards, said she is really excited if slightly nervous.

She said she expected the trip would open her eyes to an often unseen aspect of community volunteering. “I went to Greece in 2015 to do some volunteer work in a refugee camp,” she said. “But it would never cross my mind to be involved in a hyperlocal way, volunteering in my own community. But for loads of people it’s completely natural to do that and not natural to do what I do.

“I hope we can go into communities, whether it’s a big organisation or a lady organising a tea party for her neighbours every month, sit down with them and highlight just how great their work is. It’s an important thing to praise.”

Moulaoui and Harper will hear stories from community projects across Scotland as well as sharing their own experiences – spending nights in hotels, empty community centres and in rural areas, tents.

She added: “I’m French so for me, it’s amazing to be doing this. Its my home, theres a sense of belonging – it means a lot to be the one going around finding out what’s happening.”

Team Scotland will visit Shotts, Dunfermline, Dundee, Blairgowrie, Forres, Inverness, Brora, Thurso, Kirkwall, Aberdeen and Fettercairn before ending the walk in Brechin, Harper’s hometown.

Comedian Jo Brand is Big Lunch Ambassador. She said she feels passionate about creating links within communities in “unsettling times”.

She added: “When the country feels so divided and disconnected, it seems more important than ever to come together and remember the importance of community spirit. It saddens me to think that 1 in 5 of us don’t feel we could call on a neighbour if we needed help.

“It’s such a shame that so many people don’t even know the people they live closest to. The Big Lunch is the perfect way to address this.”

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