“…it really made me feel better and happier than I normally am.”

Great Get Togethers come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s difficult to choose one quote to summarise the impact they have on both organisers and participants. This quote, though, goes to the core of what the events are all about – they make people happier. They do more than that, of course. They also help people meet others in their communities, they widen viewpoints by fostering connection with people across lines of difference, they tackle loneliness, they inspire long-term volunteering. I could go on!

Over the past three years our partnership with Spirit of 2012 has enabled us to build a much deeper understanding of how and why Great Get Togethers work so well in bringing communities together. It’s of vital importance to both The Jo Cox Foundation and to Spirit of 2012 that their impact continues beyond one weekend in June, and we’ve been exploring the concept of ‘moment to movement’, that is, how the spark of an event can lead to on-going volunteering and engagement in the community.

The first Great Get Together happened in 2017, planned by Jo Cox’s friends and family to mark a year since her murder and to celebrate the words she spoke in her first speech to Parliament, that “we have more in common than that which divides us”. The event then took place annually. It was in 2020, the first year of our partnership with Spirit of 2012, when it faced its biggest test. At a time when it was actually illegal to come together, how could we continue to promote the importance of social connection and community engagement? With Spirit’s support, we were able to run the Great Get Together over those two difficult Covid summers, focusing the power of small acts of kindness and community, and reminding people of the importance of connecting with others even when in-person events aren’t possible.

So what is it about the Great Get Together that so motivates connection? As I said to start, Great Get Togethers come in all shapes and sizes, and that’s really important to the success of the event. Increasingly we’ve found that it’s the diversity of events that makes such a difference. By ensuring we have a broad spectrum – from craft to gardening, dance to cricket, picnics to plays – there’s something for everyone. Research that we conducted last month showed that 29% of people say they don’t get involved in their community because of a lack of events that appeal to them, which highlights why a wide range of events are so important.  27% of people also told us they don’t get involved in their community because of a lack of confidence. By holding events that allow people to engage at whatever level they feel comfortable with, we can overcome that hurdle. It may be that small talk at a street party isn’t for you, but perhaps taking part in a game of football would enable you to make connections, while alleviating some of that pressure.

Jo’s words are so important when we think about connection. Great Get Together events offer the opportunity to come into contact with people you may never generally have the chance to meet. And when we have the chance to communicate with others, it’s so easy to find out that yes, we really do have more in common! Jo’s quote has given the name to our More in Common Network, volunteer-led groups around the country who work year-round to make their communities a better place. For these groups, the Great Get Together is a key part of the calendar, and the chance to create that spark that leads to so many other connections. 98% of attendees from last year’s Great Get Together told us that they were inspired to become more involved in their community in the future, so we can see the ripple effect that attending just one event can have!

None of this would have been possible without the support of Spirit of 2012, and on behalf of all at The Jo Cox Foundation, and our UK-wide community of organisers, volunteers and event participants, I want to take the opportunity to say thank you for making people happier and communities more connected.

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