A group of residents on a council estate became TV celebrities when they teamed up with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in his chicken welfare campaign.

A group of residents on a council estate became TV celebrities when they teamed up with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in his chicken welfare campaign. Hugh highlighted the plight of battery-farmed chickens and helped the residents set up a free-range flock to show them a healthy alternative to supermarket meat and eggs. The story was featured in Hugh’s Chicken Run and became a national talking-point. CS backed the Chicken Out! campaign, visited the estate, at Axminster in Devon, and bought the group a store shed. Now we have revisited them, and report on a real success story. The four families have added 20 meat birds to their flock, plan to raise chicks and turkeys and are aiming to expand the site. SIMON McEWAN, the new editor of CS, reports. T here was some scepticism when celebrity chef and River Cottage supremo Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall suggested a free-range chicken project to the residents of Millwey Rise in Axminster. Like millions of others around the country, many of the residents on the council estate were used to buying cheap chicken and eggs from the supermarket and had little idea of the conditions in which the birds are raised. But the project took off, became a central theme of Hugh’s hard-hitting TV expose of the intensive chicken trade, and helped to persuade consumers to buy free-range instead. Strength to strength Six months on, the Millwey Rise chicken project has gone from strength to strength. This became clear when I called to see the group and formally present them with a store shed, courtesy of CS. The shed had been installed and was clearly getting plenty of use. Alongside the original flock of nine Black Rocks and three Buff Orpington crosses were 20 white Cobb meat birds, all looking fat and healthy. Not only this, but the group has managed to secure the future of the site in discussions with Axminster Town Council, and aims to expand it into a neighbouring allotment area. Now plans are afoot to rear chicks and branch out by introducing turkeys. “The more we get out here the more we enjoy it,” said Ian Hall, also known as Herman, one of the guiding lights of the project. “It’s really good to be up here in spring time.” His wife Maria and children Jenny and Charlie also love to spend time with the birds. Herman said the four families involved in the project work together with few disagreements and all have proved reliable. Relations with allotment holders and local residents are also cordial, and some throw veg over the fence for the birds. Herman said Forsham Cottage Arks have been very helpful, supplying the chicken houses and treatment products. And Hugh, the inspiration behind the project, has called in to check how things are going. He is now thought to be working on another chicken programme for TV. Herman said the CS shed has proved a real bonus. “It is brilliant. It was very much needed.” Now there are plans to take the meat birds to a local expert for slaughter, and to learn how this is done. There was also a discussion about how to rear chicks. The group did have one request. They need some more chicken wire, and wonder if any CS readers locally might have some spare. If you can help, call Herman on (01297) 33835.

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