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"Happy Meals": Casserole Club featured in Red magazine


Published on

"In a brilliantly simple initiative, cooking an extra portion of your supper and sharing it with an elderly neighbour is transforming the lives of both cooks and diners.

Natasha Lunn speaks to two women – with 40 years between them – on how they bonded over dinner."

*How to get involved with Casserole Club*

Go to and get cooking.

If you know someone who could benefit from a regular home-cooked
meal in Barnet, Reigate and Banstead or Tower Hamlets (more places to
be added), call Casserole Club on 020 3475 3444.

If you don’t live in one of these areas but are keen
to get involved, email

Published in: News & Politics
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"Happy Meals": Casserole Club featured in Red magazine

  1. 1. CHARITY Oruj, right, volunteers every fortnight to cook for Munna, who lives on her own Happy MEALS How to get involved In a brilliantly simple charity initiative, cooking an extra portion of your supper and sharing it with an elderly neighbour is transforming the lives of both cooks and diners. Natasha Lunn speaks to two women – with 40 years between them – on how they bonded over dinner W 124 REDONLINE.CO.UK MARCH 2014 a vivid storyteller – isn’t someone you need to tiptoe around. Oruj, on the other hand, has every reason not to volunteer her already overstretched time – two children (Zadie, six, and Muna, four), a husband and an accountancy business ( If it wasn’t for the charity Casserole Club, which encourages people to cook for someone in need in their neighbourhood, their paths would never have crossed. Casserole Club champions food sharing, setting up young ‘cooks’ and elderly ‘diners’ in the same area. Its concept is simple: volunteers prepare an extra portion of food and share home-cooked meals (and hopefully conversations) on a regular basis. Oruj and Munna are just two of around 300 people sharing food in Reigate and Banstead, Tower Hamlets, Barnet and HAIR AND MAKE-UP LINDSEY POOLE. STYLING MELANIE ASHWORTH. ORUJ WEARS: JUMPER, PAUL SMITH. SHIRT, CHINTI AND PARKER. JEANS, J BRAND. NECKLACE, ZARA. EARRINGS, HER OWN. MUNNA WEARS: SHIRT, WHISTLES. JEWELLERY, HER OWN Photograph Victoria Birkinshaw HEN I ARRIVE AT A RETIREMENT HOME in West Finchley on a Saturday lunchtime, I’m armed with my best small talk, prepared to confront an awkward situation. I’m here to meet two women: 82-year-old Munna (who lives here alone) and 40-year-old Oruj (a mother-of-two who has volunteered to cook for her every fortnight). They only met nine weeks ago, so I’m expecting to fill the odd silent pause amid a solemn soundtrack of forks and knives scraping china plates. Happily, I’m completely off the mark. I’m ushered into a living room humming with warmth and wisdom, where conversations are punctuated with laughter. This could be any family’s meal time. In fact, it’s the result of two strangers’ lives overlapping. Munna – feisty, opinionated, Staffordshire. Every other week, Oruj brings a vegetarian Oruj has also found that she’s gained a much-valued dish, and her daughters, into Munna’s home. It’s a warm, sounding board in her life. ‘Visiting Munna gives our life wonderful idea in theory. But, in practice, why would an added dimension. I would definitely ask her advice a time-poor mum who is already juggling accountancy – she has so much experience, it’s like tapping into this with the school runs actually sign up to it? vast fountain of knowledge. I feel like I have somebody For Oruj, motivation struck when her neighbour fell calm I can go to, who will say, “Look, I’ve been through down the stairs and sadly died from a heart attack. ‘No all of this, relax, it’s fine.”’ one found her for three days,’ she explains. ‘It made I recognise this feeling. A couple of years ago, somewhat me stop and think: isn’t it awful that someone on our uncharacteristically (after a bout of hangover-inspired street lived such a lonely life? I decided I wanted to have self-loathing), I signed up to volunteer for Independent some communication with my community – the people Age (, a charity that provides support around me.’ After spotting a tiny ad in the local paper, to elderly people on low incomes. I was 26, straddling she discovered Casserole Club. a career change and a flailing relationship, with two jobs Sharing food is, and always has and a diary bursting with ‘things I should been, a bonding experience. And as go to’ – any spare time I could clutch was warm, spicy smells of vegetable stew reserved for my ever-patient friends. waft around the room, the sociable Then, like Oruj, I decided I wanted and inclusive mood is infectious. to do something more with my life. So An hour into my visit, I realise the I met Bree – a feisty 73-year-old who food on the table is just an incidental drinks faster than I do, swears and extra. For Munna, the benefits are happily dishes out her opinions on Go to obvious: something to look forward to, everything from my break-ups to my and get cooking. If you some company and, most importantly, career, as long as I promise to leave my know someone who ‘a chance to laugh’. I sense that she, like pity at home. She is often my confidante, could benefit from a so many other elderly people, has stark sometimes my drinking partner, always regular home-cooked moments of loneliness. ‘There are so a bright spark and never a charity case. meal in Staffordshire, many widows around, like me, with Munna is similarly independent. Barnet, Reigate and no one to talk to, no one to go out with, Undoubtedly, she is looking for Banstead or Tower absolutely nothing,’ she says. ‘I find companionship – she lives in her Hamlets (more places to the boredom very, very hard.’ own flat within the home and has no be added), call Casserole Thankfully Munna met her cook, Oruj interaction with anyone else there – but Club on 020 3475 3444. If – who, along with her two daughters, she doesn’t want to be mollycoddled. you don’t live in one of has become a ‘second family’. But Oruj She wants to talk about life in Bengal, these areas but are keen reaps the benefits of the relationship, books and, believe it or not, men; to get involved, email too. ‘Before, I was just on a treadmill no topic of conversation is off limits. trying to make my business successful, ‘We talk about our relationships, our trying to bring up my children, trying families, our stories from growing up. to interact with the school – just living.’ Every aspect of our lives,’ she says. Then, she decided she wanted As our plates are cleared, I think something more from her life – and that about the fact that here, in one living something turned out to be Munna. room, three generations are mixing Of course there’s the obvious ‘selfish and giggling and swapping stories. element’. And why shouldn’t we wear our benevolence While ‘life-changing’ might be a phrase that teeters on badges with pride? ‘I get to feel good about myself and enjoy the brink of schmaltz, as I listen to Munna talking about telling people I do this,’ admits Oruj. ‘It comes with a kind of meeting Oruj, and her children, the words seem to fit. kudos.’ How does she cram everything in? I am busy, but ‘It has inspired such a change in me,’ confesses Munna. because we’ve found such a fantastic connection – and I need ‘I can’t tell you how much it’s given me, I really can’t. to cook for the kids anyway – it doesn’t feel like a chore.’ We can only see how long our relationship lasts – but And that’s the simple brilliance of Casserole Club: a few I hope it never breaks.’ more potatoes, one or two extra handfuls of rice – that’s Later as I make my way home, I contemplate the all it takes to make a difference to someone else’s life. consequences of loneliness, and marvel at what I’ve ‘You always think charity is going to be a pain, don’t you?’ just witnessed: the elderly woman who can’t believe says Oruj. ‘But it’s just not like that with Munna. Like the her luck and her cook, a busy woman, not so different gym, when you start you worry about how you’re going from me, trying to live a useful life. No martyrs, no to fit it in, but then you get into a routine – the more you objects of pity; just two people slotting their lives do it, the easier it becomes.’ together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. e Boyfriends, career crossroads – what does Natasha really discuss with 73-year-old Bree? Meet them at… REDONLINE.CO.UK/BLOGS