An egg-cellent idea

15 October 2019 | North East England

Children holding hens

How HenPower is boosting pensioners and schoolkids alike

When HenPower won the TSB Community Partner Award at Pride of the North East in 2017, the audience was inspired by its inspirational idea of placing hens in care homes to help tackle loneliness, depression and improve older people’s wellbeing.

Since then, the idea has grown, and now HenPower also links care homes with schools, bringing young and older generations together. Following their win, TSB awarded the group funding which allowed them to set up four further projects in the North East.

Kate Rowe, Forest School Leader at Harlow Green Primary School in Gateshead, met the HenPower team at one of their roadshows, where they were showcasing their henkeeping skills.

Kate had already introduced hens to her school, where they wander about freely and even in and out of classrooms - but wanted to expand the project.

“We already knew effects that birdkeeping had on the children especially those harder-to-reach kids. We had one child who never really spoke. But the hens drew her out and she became quite chatty. The thing is with hens, is that they are not threatening.

“When they are caring for something defenceless like a chicken, it brings out their nurturing side and they want to protect it. Children with behavioural problems can be surprisingly caring when allowed.”

When Kate heard about the possibility of linking the school with care homes and people in supported living she convinced her head to get on board. Now they are one of seven schools in Gateshead working with older people in dementia care and supported housing.

Kate adds: “Some of our children face some of the same issues that older people do, like social isolation and loneliness and feeling that they want to be part of something. And the older people absolutely delight in having the children visit. They find it exciting to be near them and are drawn to their brightness and energy.”

Kate found that the children also found the older people easy to engage with.

“Older people don’t have a shock factor, but then nor do children. Neither have a filter which makes it so refreshing. Most older people also have a complete absence of judgement, so if we have an autistic child with them, they don’t blink an eye if they suddenly start to do something odd. By the same token, when the kids are also around someone with dementia, and one of them might do something like, bark, the children are not fazed.

“Or they might ask an older person why they are dribbling. Rather than be insulted, the older people don’t mind because it gives them the chance to talk about themselves which they don’t often get to do. I have to admit, I have witnessed some colourful conversations between the children and the older people - it can be very funny.”

At the same time the children prove invaluable to the older people, many who are troubled by arthritis and find the loss of dexterity depressing.

“It can be so frustrating for them, but they can use the children as their hands. They use their knowledge and experience to guide them. They might be in the allotment, say, and the child can do some of the more hands-on work or it can be working with the hens.”

Kate adds: “Sometimes people ask me if there are any drawbacks. But there really aren’t. It’s pretty much a win-win all the way.”

Owen Turnbull, 89, and Owen Cummings, 13, show how the project is transforming lives.

‘Big Owen’ is a widower who lives in a supported housing scheme in nearby Wood Green.

‘Little Owen’, who was eleven when he first met up with ‘Big Owen’ has since left his primary school. But he still talks enthusiastically about their time together.

“Owen taught me alot. He is quite skilled and was obsessed about his hens. He showed me how to hatch the eggs. That was my favourite part. But I just liked hanging out with him. I think it made me respect old people more. It also made me calmer at school working with him and the hens.”

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