The UK based Henpower was set up by the charity Equal Arts in 2011 with the aim of using hen-keeping to tackle social isolation, reduce depression and improve people’s wellbeing. Equal Arts’ director, Douglas Hunter, explains 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.”

So Equal Arts spent £300 on a secondhand hen house and six hens. 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.
HenPower comes over as light-hearted and quirky – and Equal Arts clearly encourages this with its copious hen- and egg-related punning – there’s “hensioners”, “henthusiasm”, “getting the day off to a cracking start”, and the word “henpower” itself. But the intent behind it is serious. A 12-month study of the project by Northumbria University in 2012-13 found that HenPower is improving the health and wellbeing of older people, and reducing depression, loneliness and the need for antipsychotic medication in care homes.

“Thanks to the hens I’ve made friends with people from four to 94,” says Alan Richards, a former taxi-driver, who in March 2015, received a “Points of Light” award, given by the British government to volunteers who make a difference in the community.

 Now in more than 40 care homes, HenPower creatively “hengages” older people in arts activities and hen-keeping aiming to:

  • Empower older people to build positive relationships through hen-keeping with improved wellbeing, reduced loneliness and reduced depression
  • Help care settings offer relationship centered care meeting older people’s needs and embrace ‘living with care’ as opposed to ‘caring for’
  • Create lasting change by supporting older people in care settings to get involved with schools, festivals and community events
  • Support Resident and Relative Committees within care settings to be aspirational and provide meaningful activities which embrace creative ageing
  • Provide social care staff with excellent skill transfer and professional development opportunities.

“HenPower is innovative because it is not just brief ‘petting’ of the hens, but also taking responsibility for them. There’s a huge range of roles with shared responsibilities, with diverse ways to interact with the project.”

Time and again the pensioners say how the hens have given them a new lease of life. But it’s Ossie Cresswell who sums it up best. After he’s described his role in the HenPower roadshows he says, “The best thing is it keeps me from getting down. If you’re on your own you’ve got virtually nothing. But if I’ve given people happiness then my life has been worthwhile.”

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