Hensioners share their chicken-keeping skills with school children

HenPower, the pioneering project bringing henkeeping into care homes, has branched out… into schools.

The Hensioners are now so passionate about chickens that they hatched a plan to share their skills and knowledge with children.

In a pilot scheme, they hitched up with children from Harlow Green Primary School in Gateshead to learn about incubation and rearing.

The project, run by Equal Arts, supported by Brinsea and funded by the National Lottery’s Silver Dream Fund, and supported by Brinsea, sees young and old meet on a weekly basis to explore the lifecycle of a hen.

Kate Rowe, a teaching assistant from the school, who has a passion for outdoor education, said: “There’s a kind of automatic respect between the Hensioners and the children. The Hensioners have no expectations of behaviour of the children. It’s just really organic… a very natural process. They bond really very quickly and that’s a real turning point for some of those children to understand that they make a direct difference in someone’s life.

“We’re learning as we go, so having the Hensioners in is just amazing. To have that class just sit there, completely engaged…it’s just a very beautiful thing really. And the teachers are finding it’s becoming such an easy thing to teach because the children are so engaged. They can turn all this to every part of the curriculum, so it’s very exciting.”

Lots of challenges

Never averse to a challenge, the Hensioners take most things in their stride, be it hatching hens, turning their hand to hen related creativity, delivering as visiting lecturers, exploring creative approaches to end of life care with nursing students, or being addressed by the former Prime Minister!

Alan Richards, retired taxi driver from Gateshead, was recently awarded a Point of Light award from David Cameron for his work as a volunteer. Alan, 77, said: “When they suggested getting hens I was dead against it. I thought it was a ridiculous idea, but now I can see the benefits of keeping hens for everyone, especially if you’re older. I’ve made friends through hens from people aged 4 to 94!”

Project Lead at HenPower, Jos Forester-Melville, said: “It’s unbelievable to think we set out with very humble beginnings, in one care home in Gateshead where one older man with dementia, Bill, kept repeating female names. At specific times of the day, he would make a move towards the door. The manager realised that the names Bill kept repeating were the names of the hens he’d kept when he lived at home and he wanted to go out to feed them and collect the eggs. So the manager approached Equal Arts and asked about the possibility of installing hens in the home and peppered with weekly creative sessions, where older people are encouraged to sing, paint, draw and much more…The HenPower egg was hatched!

“We have been approached by care homes the length and breadth of the country asking us to HenPower their residents and staff.

People are recognising the benefits of creativity and caring for hens. We’ve even had requests to set up in Taiwan, New Zealand, The Netherlands and Canada after a successful trial in Australia!

“People often associate with the project and see it in terms of animal assisted therapy. However, whilst we recognise the therapeutic benefits of handling hens, we feel it is so much more than therapy. By adding creativity to the mix, and encouraging older people to care for the hens, we are enabling them to have responsibilities, to share team work, to be active and get outside, to create a change in the culture of their care setting … it is so much more than simply handling hens or having a visiting entertainer. Caring for hens has provided a catalyst for lively activity from singing and poetry to visual arts, horticulture and textiles.”

“Creativity doesn’t fade as we age. It provides an opportunity for people to live in the moment and express themselves through art, exploring new interests or perfecting past potential.

“Guidelines from the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) now recommend group based activities focusing on creativity to improve the mental wellbeing of older people and prolonging active life.

“The Care Quality Commission’s Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care, Andrea Sutcliffe, has said that creativity and innovation are key ingredients in outstanding’ care homes.”

MORE: information@equalarts.org.uk

Tel: 0191 477 5775

Keep up to date with all the Hensioners eggsploits at www.facebook.com/henpowerproject/

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