£1m hen scheme helps tackle loneliness

Hens introduced at Nesfield Lodge in Belle Isle and Bywater Hall and Lodge in Allerton Bywater to help tackle loneliness among the elderly in care homes.
Hens introduced at Nesfield Lodge in Belle Isle and Bywater Hall and Lodge in Allerton Bywater to help tackle loneliness among the elderly in care homes.

It started with £200 and a second-hand hen house in the North-East, but now, a pioneering scheme that brings hens into care homes to tackle social isolation among elderly residents, has come to Castleford for the first time.

The £1m lottery-funded HenPower project has introduced a new meaning to the term ‘hen party’.

Hens introduced at Nesfield Lodge in Belle Isle and Bywater Hall and Lodge in Allerton Bywater to help tackle loneliness among the elderly in care homes.

Hens introduced at Nesfield Lodge in Belle Isle and Bywater Hall and Lodge in Allerton Bywater to help tackle loneliness among the elderly in care homes.

By encouraging care home residents to take an active interest in the upkeep of hens, it is building relationships between residents, staff, family and even local school children - with the benefits going beyond those of animal therapy.

The project has been shown to reduce loneliness and geriatric depression and improve well-being by researchers at Northumbria University.

Director of project founder Equal Arts, Douglas Hunter, said hens introduced at Bywater Hall and Lodge four weeks ago, are already making an impact.

Mr Hunter said: “Care homes are very female-orientated, matriarchal places.

“Most residents are female, most staff are female, so originally we were looking at how we could engage with men.

“So we started with a £200 pilot, six hens, and a second-hand hen house, and four years later it’s a £1.5m scheme moving out of the North East and into Leeds and London.

“Now we have as many women enjoying it as men, and it’s not just about the practical activity of looking after the hens, mucking out and collecting the eggs, there is a whole creative element, with photography, writing and a whole raft of activities.”

He added: “HenPower moves away from passive care and harnesses people’s imagination and interests to empower themselves.”

One element to come out of the project is bringing school children into care homes.

The life cycle of a chicken is included in the primary curriculum, and bringing the children in to see the birds and hear from residents about how they look after the them has proved to be a “great opportunity” for both the children and residents alike.

Bywater Hall and Lodge is owned by Orchard Care Homes, which worked with Equal Arts on pilot schemes in Darlington. The company wanted to roll out the scheme to its other homes.

Operations director Phil Whitaker said: “It’s such a simple idea which has such a potential for big impact on the homes taking part.”

More than 700 residents in over 20 North-East and two London homes take part in HenPower projects. The arrival of HenPower in West Yorkshire is the next step for the charity taking it country-wide. The project has also been introduced at Nesfield Lodge in Belle Isle, Leeds.