This Day In 1993 - Lunch Hour!


22nd December 2011

Each month a group of pensioners in Maiden Newton and district sit down to a community lunch in their village.

It’s been a popular date and one that has been going for five years… and the price of the meal is only ten pence more than it was in 1988. David Wilson reports.

Good cooks and good house-keepers. That is the verdict from the pensioners of Maiden Newton and district about their monthly lunch hour organisers.

In the five years since the lunches were first prepared by a group of about 20 dedicated ladies, the cost of the lunch, by the time they held their five-year anniversary lunch, has gone up just ten pence.

“When it started, it was £1.20,” recalled Maggie Gardner, who was at the lunch with her husband Jack, who, with fellow villager Jack Beck, does his bit by putting out the tables and chairs.


Maggie was reminiscing with Eira Harris who was one of the founders of the hour along with Maggie, who finds that these days she can’t stand as long as she used to be able, and has dropped out of the cooking rota and just turns up to enjoy the lunch.

“It was quite a challenge in those days,” chuckled Eira. She asked Maggie: “Do you remember the fuss we had getting a hot trolley?”

“We found Sherborne Hospital had a whole row of them to get rid of. We offered to buy one, but they said no. Then they said they wanted £700 for one.

“Then when we enquired further” (“You were always so determined about everything!” interjected Maggie) “we found they were only going for scrap! But they wanted £700 for one!

“Eventually we got them down to £70. You know,” added Eira, who will not admit it but is generally reckoned to be the spark that keeps the hour alight, “But I miss those old days.

“It was such a challenge. Now it is so organised.”

Indeed it is, with the ladies who do the lunch hour doing the shopping and cooking, and to such a fine edge the cost of a meal, main course, sweet and coffee or tea, is still only £1.30.

When the hour started the meal cost £1.20. They are anxious to let you know that it is called “lunch hour”.

It is not a club, one of the reasons for its success they say. “It just works,” said Eira. “There is no committee, no meetings, no club to belong to.”


“We just find out how many are coming to lunch, and cook enough.”

Their house-keeping is immaculate. They now have a healthy bank balance, enough to buy any big equipment, and the year balanced out nicely this year with just £19 profit. The diners run a small raffle to help with costs.

One year, recalled Maggie, when the lunch cost £1.20, they worked out their expenditure for the last 12 months and found they had spent £1.19 per meal.

Overheads are trimmed to the bone. All the cooks get is £2 allowance for petrol if they do the monthly shopping and 50p if they pre-cook anything on top of their own stoves and £1 if they use their oven.

There were 40 lunchers at the first lunch and there are now between 50 and 70 every month.

The lunch hour, one of the best community lunches in the county, is an example that given the chance, people can make communities work very efficiently without interference. The bureaucrats are not needed!

[From the Dorset Echo 22-12-93]

Other News