King James’ historic HQ hosts teddy bears’ picnic

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The historic estate Brook Hall, the headquarters for King James’ Army during the Siege, opened its doors to the public on Sunday, June 12, for the first time in years to hold a Teddy Bears’ Picnic for local people.

The event, in conjunction with The Big Lunch, saw around 500 people enjoy lots of fun family activities including storytelling, games, crafts and outdoor adventure.

Brook Hall is a huge part of Londonderry’s history. During the famous Siege of Derry in 1689, it was occupied by King James’ commander, the Duke of Berwick.

On Sunday a “Teddy Bears’ Trail” was installed within the estate, which took people on a tour of the grounds and helped children – and everyone else – learn about interested ideas, such as biomass heating, the roles of farm animals in the food we eat, and survival skills.

There were also play areas, jet ski and speed boat displays, and an opportunity for kids to build their own teddy bears in a workshop provided by TJ Teddies.

David Gilliland, whose family owns Brook Hall, said: “Unfortunately the weather was a bit miserable but all the kids were in their wellies and raincoats and they all loved it, and that meant all the parents were happy too. It was a very good day and we are pleased with how it went. All the activities were a great success.

“I have to say a huge thank you to everyone who helped out and volunteered their time - which includes friends, family, and lots of people from the local community. They are the ones who kept the whole event running on the day.”

Now in its eighth year, The Big Lunch is an idea from the Eden Project, made possible by the Big Lottery Fund, that aims to get as many people as possible to have lunch with their neighbours in a simple act of community, friendship and fun.

The event also had input from The Crunch, a 2016 scheme from the Wellcome Project that wants to help people think about how our food, our health and our planet are all interconnected – with Crunch ambassadors getting children to think about where their food comes from and the benefits of health eating.

Grainne McCloskey, Partnership Manager for The Big Lunch Northern Ireland, said: “I drive past and never knew this magical space was here, it’s incredible and so much work obviously went into the event being both fun and an education on the connection between food, plants and nature.

“The Crunch and The Big Lunch ideas were certainly brought to life here at Brook Hall by all the volunteers sharing knowledge and skills.”

Big Lunches can be in your back garden, your street, or in a large public space. Some are barbecues, some picnics, they can involve a handful of people right up to huge gatherings.

The participation figures are remarkable - last year there were hundreds of Big Lunches across NI with tens of thousands of people taking part. Across the whole of the UK more than 7.3 million people were involved.

The important thing is gathering together to enjoy some food and getting to know your neighbours and community better.

Joanne McDowell, Northern Ireland Director of The Big Lottery Fund, said: “We are delighted to continue our support of The Big Lunch. It has had a really positive impact on communities across Northern Ireland and we are looking forward to seeing the difference it will make to people once again.”