Manchester City Council

Dena the Dynamo – 90-year-old green-fingered guru creates a Manchester Menu as part of her winter advice for older people

Gardening guru and Great Granny Dena Murphy has boosted her social contribution to the city by devising a ‘Manchester Menu’ for older people to help keep them fit and well this winter.

Dena, who will be 90 in October, is a force of nature in more ways than one. Not only does she keep a an allotment that allows her to make weekly meals for up to 50 lunch club members a week, but she also has the energy to champion community care for city. This includes looking out for older people as well as helping former young offenders get back on their feet through her support and work on the allotment.

Dena, who is the chair of New Moston residents’ group NEPHRA, is prolific in her produce and grows so much fruit and veg that she can fill the group’s freezers for a year at time. Her message is simple: age is no barrier to eating well or being part of the community. 

“There isn’t any fruit or veg that can’t be grown with a little time, effort and attention,” she says. “The worst thing older people can do is start to go down the ‘tea and toast’ route, because that doesn’t do anyone any good and it also leads to loneliness.”

Now, Dena, a former nurse, is offering her own version of a hearty soup, as part of a Manchester Menu this winter.  The key to the soup is using any vegetable available – apart from cabbage, which ‘just doesn’t work in soup’. 

“The secret is not to be afraid,” she says. “Good eating doesn’t have to be hard work or complicated. This recipe means you can use any vegetable at all – as long as it doesn’t include cabbage. It can be adapted to include carbs and protein, plus a dash of Worcester Sauce.”

Dena’s Manchester Menu:

• 1 litre water or stock. This can be one or two OXO or stock cubes,

• I onion finely chopped. (Dena grates her onions),

• Any vegetables whatsoever, apart from cabbage. This could be fresh or frozen veg, finely chopped.

Leave to boil on the hob for 25 minutes and season to taste with salt and pepper

Alternative options:

For thicker soup add cornflour, pasta or even dumplings.

Add in meat cuts, including corned beef or fish.

For a splash of spice, add Worcester sauce.

Dena and her NEPHRA counterparts are examples of city’s move to bring more care into communities. This is the focus of its Local Care Organisation, which launched in April and combines mental and physical health with social care and voluntary sector support near people’s homes. More can be read on this here – which also outlines how the city’s health and care commissioners plan to work in the future.

NEPHRA is a good neighbours scheme and Dena estimates that they do around 80 visits a month to help people in their homes with shopping, cleaning, washing and even cooking.

“That extra care and support is really important to people when they are going through something bad, illness or feeling lonely. It’s what being a good neighbour really means,” says Dena, who regularly works 14 hours a day.

“I’d urge everyone to look after our older people, encourage them to eat well so that they stay fit and well this winter.”

Councillor Bev Craig, Executive member for Adult Health and Wellbeing at Manchester City Council, said: “Dena is a local legend and proves that age is just a number. She can grow anything and really does reap what she sows. There are countless youngsters who keep in touch with her, especially after she has helped them get back on track with their lives.”

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