Food for thought?

As lockdown eases and cafes and restaurants start to open their doors again it’s a good time to consider the role of food in bringing people together. Social distancing changes the way we eat together, travel and meet up for work or play but it’s time for many of us to take our first tentative steps towards socialising safely outside the home.

Languages teach us that food is inextricably linked to friendships and relationships: English, Spanish, French and Italian words for ‘companion’ all come from Latin words meaning “with whom one eats bread”.

Sharing food is an important part of the Time to Shine programme as it’s an everyday activity and a recognised way to bring people together. Food gives people something to talk about - it’s a shared interest and a common topic of conversation which can help to break the ice for people who are newly acquainted.

Our delivery partners have found a variety of wild and wonderful ways to incorporate meals or light refreshments into their Time to Shine activities.

Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours’ Scheme had the idea of reserving shared tables in local cafes and restaurants at weekends and inviting local older people - who were single, living alone and able to make their own way to the venue - to join the table and enjoy a self-funded meal together with other people.

This ‘Shared Tables’ project creates a caring and welcoming space and offers good company, good food, laughter and peer support. Older people contact the office to book a place on one or more of the tables. On the day of the meal, a volunteer table host is the main point of contact. They take responsibility for welcoming people into the group, helping the conversation flow and assisting with practicalities such as food ordering, knowing where the loos are and splitting the bill.

The general public in the restaurant won’t know that it’s a Shared Table - all they will see is a group of diners chatting, laughing and enjoying their meal together.

Time to Shine has worked in partnership with Cross Gates and District Good Neighbours’ Scheme to create a toolkit, Setting up a Shared Tables project in your local area to help other organisations who wish to set up a similar project.

In another example, Young at Arts, led by Yorkshire Dance, created a participatory arts event called Food Glorious Food which took place in the beautiful Left Bank Leeds. The event brought together over 100 older adults, including groups from two residential care homes, and featured a guest performance by Protein Dance, alongside community performances and a communal feast.

“Food Glorious Food - an unexpected GEM! Haven't been involved with anything like this - thoroughly enjoyable - venue superb. Great space, lovely company and entertainment. Appreciated 'Food for Thought' drama - reflecting on life, memory, loss & sharing over a meal. Uplifting and moving”.

Time to Shine has created a new learning report - Food for Thought: community connections through shared meals and a three minute film highlighting the work of some of our delivery partner projects, including Choices, and Cook and Eat (both managed by Feelgood Factor) and Shared Tables.


You can find on the Time to Shine website links to a range of creative, learning and academic resources on the role of food in building relationships, and information on the outcomes for older people involved.

Lisa Fearn
Time to Shine monitoring and evaluation officer

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