Gateshead chicken project hatches heartwarming photo exhibition

Photographs of elderly people interacting with hens are going on show in the Bewicks Gallery at Gateshead Civic Centre

Nesting time, from the HenPower exhibition by Mark Henderson
Nesting time, from the HenPower exhibition by Mark Henderson

There are more than 10 billion chickens in the world at any time, it is said – but surely none so famous as Gateshead’s.

Since news broke of the borough’s HenPower project, fostering friendships between elderly residents and chickens, it has become a talking point around the world.

And who could resist the photographs documenting the project? They have proved so popular that they are to go on show in an exhibition in the Bewicks Gallery at Gateshead Civic Centre next week.

HenPower was set up by the charity Equal Arts to give elderly people a sense of purpose, thereby improving their health and quality of life.

Judging by the photos, the chickens thrive on it too. But who wouldn’t opt for a chat with a friendly pensioner if the alternative was Sunday lunch – with you as the main course?

Dozens of chickens have been reared and introduced to people at housing schemes across Gateshead as part of the project which is supported by Gateshead Council and the Gateshead Housing Company.

Shadon House, a local authority Promoting Independence Centre, provided the inspiration for the project while Wood Green, a retirement housing complex run by the Gateshead Housing Company, has become HenPower headquarters and home to some 38 hens of various breeds.

The project is targeted at elderly men in particular, offering them a hands-on role in the rearing of the birds at the homes where they live.

Feeling peckish?, from the HenPower exhibition by Mark Henderson
Feeling peckish?, from the HenPower exhibition by Mark Henderson

These so-called ‘Hensioners’ – central to a project in which hens and puns abound – are responsible for the daily care of the birds, feeding, cleaning and collecting eggs.

If the hens and the pensioners are happy, then so is aptly-named photographer Mark Henderson who is based in Dublin but is originally from Hartlepool.

“This was a really joyful commission for me to undertake,” he said.

“The older people certainly love their hens and they have become a big part of their everyday lives.

“I wanted to capture the fun element of the project as it was clear that the hens enriched the lives of the older people.

“There was a lot of laughter and a lot of clucking while I was taking the photographs.”

While the project itself has attracted attention from academics and health professionals around the world, Mark’s photos have also appeared widely in the media.

They have also been shortlisted for the All About Age competition set up as part of Age Alliance’s work with the United Nations International Older People’s Day.

Douglas Hunter, director of Equal Arts, said: “It’s an amazing project and Mark’s portraits really capture the fun, laughter and joy that the hens bring to the older people.

“We had seen some of Mark’s other portrait photography and we knew he would be able to produce images that both challenge and counteract some of the misconceptions that exist around older people.”

The HenPower photography exhibition opens on Wednesday, February 26, and runs until April 30. Visitors will be able to find out more about the project, buy merchandise and even sponsor a hen.


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