12 Days of Christmas: How to hen-rich the lives of old folk

Dani Bird with the three hens and residents Ted Wilkinson, 89, and Lilian Gale, 83. Picture: Simon Hulme
Dani Bird with the three hens and residents Ted Wilkinson, 89, and Lilian Gale, 83. Picture: Simon Hulme
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On the third day of the ‘YEP does Christmas’, we present three friendly hens who reside at Nesfield Lodge Dementia Care Home, where they have been part of the family, so-to-beak, for the last two years.

The hens were introduced at the home in Belle Isle, Leeds, courtesy of the HenPower Project run by the Equal Arts charity, which works largely with older people living in care settings and those living with dementia.

It helps to promote health and wellbeing by reducing loneliness and depression and it has also helped in getting the local community more involved with the home.

Dani Bird, activities co-ordinator

The project was set up in 2012 in Gateshead and proved so successful the charity was awarded £1m from Big Lottery to expand the scheme.

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Dani Bird, 31, activities co-ordinator for Orchard Care Homes, which runs Nesfield, said that to begin with she was not convinced by the idea of bringing hens into the home but has since changed her mind.

She said: “I didn’t think it would work but having worked with the hens, I’ve seen how much of a difference it can make.

“The idea behind it is to get people in care homes more engaged.

“It helps to promote health and wellbeing by reducing loneliness and depression and it has also helped in getting the local community more involved with the home.

“Previously, we had a local school visit once a week but since we’ve had the hens, they come twice a week, which helps with that intergenerational contact. Some of the residents have really taken to the hens, whereas if I take one into the home, everyone immediately perks up.”

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The home has four hens, all of which lay, the resulting eggs being sold in the foyer to guests, the money going back to the project.

Lindsey Porter, media spokeswoman for Orchard Care Homes, said: “Research was done to see whether hen keeping could reduce stress and help them feel better, by giving them an active role in doing something, in this case, looking after the chickens.

“But it’s much more than that, it’s a catalyst for all sorts of other interactions.

“So, because of the hens, we now get artists coming in each week and we have more interaction with schools than we did.

“The children who come here have done all kinds of projects related to the hens, including photography, sculpture and drawings.

“The hens are quite calming creatures to have around and residents like them very much.”

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