Equal Arts’ director, Douglas Hunter, tells us how the project began. “We had been working in a care home when a resident with dementia was talking about his girls. It turned out ‘the girls’ were his hens. He missed the routine of caring for them.”
The manager then asked Douglas if he could bring some hens into the home and, after finding no opposition from health and safety organisations, Equal Arts invested £300 in six hens and a second-hand hen house. By the time the hen house needed replacing, four months later, the staff were so convinced of its value they paid for a new one out of their own pockets. Equal Arts was subsequently given £160,000 from the Big Lottery Fund to test the project in further sites across north-east England.
The trial was a phenomenal success and HenPower is now well established and thriving. Volunteers are known as “hensioners” and an important aspect of HenPower is building inter-community relations. Hensioners often go out on ‘roadshows’ where they share their experiences and knowledge in schools, care settings and summer fairs.
Hensioner Alan Richards, who was awarded a Point of Light Award for his work with the group, said “I love going into schools to meet the bairns. I’ve made friends with people aged four to 94 through doing the hen road shows. I’ve learnt so much myself about keeping hens, stuff that I didn’t have a clue about before and now we can go back into schools and homes to share our experiences and to encourage others. To be honest, you’re never too old to learn.”
Now in more than 40 care homes, HenPower creatively hengages older people in arts activities and hen-keeping to promote health and wellbeing and reduce loneliness. It also cultivates creativity in care settings at a time in life when most people are slowing down, and not stepping into wellies or making masterpieces. In the North East alone there are currently 700 pensioners looking after hens in 20 care homes.
The hensioners have even designed their own bespoke coops, chosen rare breeds to buy and bid for birds at auction. HenPower also engages elderly residents in weekly activities such as creative writing, arts, crafts, music and movement, and photography. Staff in care homes have reported a reduction in the use of antipsychotic medication when the hens are present in the pensioners’ lives.
Hensioner Ossie Cresswell says "Next to blindness loneliness is the worst thing you can have, it is a big affliction. It can destroy a lot of people. I know because I have been through it. At 87, hens are the biggest thing in our lives."
With loneliness said to be as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day HenPower helps vulnerable older people gain a sense of purpose and being part of something worthwhile.
We absolutely love HenPower and we’re thrilled that they are the worthy winners of the Pride of the North East TSB Community Partner Award.
Read more about HenPower here www.equalarts.org.uk/our-work/henpower