Julia Edmunds, Time to Shine Learning Facilitator, reports back from 'Ageing, Loneliness and Dementia': a learning event at Hatfield Hall, Wakefield that took place on 16 November 2017.

The agenda was promising with insightful contributions from the Centre for Ageing Better, Age UK Rotherham, Alzheimers Society, Campaign to End Loneliness, West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, and the Soil Association. However the ‘beak’ experience had to be the contribution from Henpower.

In 2012 Equal Arts, a Gateshead based organisation, were working in a Care Home with a group of elderly service users including Billy who had dementia. 

Quite by chance they learnt that he used to keep hens. As a result the home bought six hens and built a henhouse. The impact was huge: Billy was ‘henpowerd’ – he took charge of looking after the hens, taught other services users how to and friends and family were fully ‘hengaged.’

Equal Arts secured Big Lottery funding to roll this pilot out into eight care homes in Gateshead. One was Wood Green which had a group of lonely older men. It has transformed the lives of service users. Four ‘hensioners’ came along to the learning event, accompanied by three hens, to talk about their experiences.

Owen is 87 years old. He is a carer for his wife of 60 years, Bell, who has dementia. His day starts at 7am with letting the chickens out and feeding them. They give him something that is his and a break from being a carer.

Alan was initially sceptical and concerned about the risk of attracting vermin. He has no family and lives alone, his only social contact being the local pub. He is now a Henpower convert. He has gone from knowing the names of just five of the other service users to 75 – people he can now call ‘friends’ because of their shared interest and connection over the hens. 

His confidence has increased so much that he accompanied Equal Arts in a pitch to the Big Lottery for further funding to expand the programme nationally. Asked on a scale of 1-10 how happy he was he replied he was off the scale.

Doreen is 92. She was bereaved eight years ago and lives alone. Since getting involved, she has traveled around the country on roadshows promoting the project. Her daughter now has to make an appointment to visit her mum due to Doreen’s hectic schedule.

Six years ago Pam knew nothing about keeping hens. Now she is a scientific ‘henologist’ and talked knowledgeably in public about the shared responsibility of caring for the hens.

Henpower can now be found in over 40 cares homes across the UK; they have also gone ‘henternational’ with homes in Australia, Holland and Taiwan ‘henbracing’ the project.

Henpower results in many linked activities for care homes including:

  • Designing and building henhouses
  • Intergenerational work in schools including incubating and hatching eggs
  • Road shows
  • Creative/arts activities

The evaluation by Northumbria University  shows a reduction in feelings of loneliness using the De Jong scale, improved feelings of happiness and wellbeing and increased self confidence.  

In short, Owen, Pam, Alan and Doreen demonstrated how Henpower has ‘henspired’ and ‘hencouraged’ them, and ‘henproved’ their quality of life.

The Centre for Ageing Better posed the question of 'What works well?' to reduce social isolation and loneliness. 

My money is on the chickens!

Julia Edmunds

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