North East hen scheme praised for helping pensioners

A group of Gateshead residents are being asked to  spread the word about their feathery friends

A group of pensioners in Gateshead have been given chickens to raise as part of HenPower project
A group of pensioners in Gateshead have been given chickens to raise as part of HenPower project

Pensioners proving henpower has given them a new lust for life will take their message to people targeted by discrimination.

Hensioners Alan Richards and Ossie Cresswell are part of a group of residents living in sheltered housing in Gateshead who first trialled the North East friendship scheme 12 months ago.

Giving older people responsibility for feeding, clearing out and looking after their own chickens, the initiative - reported in The Journal last week - aims to improve the health and well-being of residents.

Following its success the duo have now been asked to share their experiences at a national conference in Manchester for the Baring Foundation, a charity improving people’s quality of life.

Ossie, 87, is the oldest resident at the Wood Green accommodation. He said: “I have always kept hens in the past and had 56 of them and five goats when I was younger.

“I’m not as hands-on with looking after the hens these days since I had a fall, but I provide a lot of moral support and help to answer some of the questions we get. You can be involved in all sorts of ways. It gets you out of the house, away from the TV, getting fresh air and meeting new friends.

“It’s a great honour to be asked but we’re getting quite used to it now, we even gave a presentation to the Big Lottery Fund in Birmingham.” Lyn Walker, who is the sheltered scheme officer at Wood Green, managed by the Gateshead Housing Company. She said: “Twelve months ago we knew nothing about hens. Not a thing. Now it’s a part of our everyday routine. It used to be hard to motivate the residents, to get them to do things. They spent most of their time on their own watching television, not mixing.

“When you drive into the car park now there is life and energy wherever you look. We have two pens bustling with hens and there’s always several people out there feeding or tending to them.

“They check a few times each day for eggs or you’ll hear the men sitting around the patio table planning on building the next chicken coop or what they are going to buy or sell next at auction.

“And often when you stand back and listen they’re not just learning about hens, they’re learning about each other, about their pasts and present. HenPower has created some really strong bonds and lasting friendships.”

Douglas Hunter is director of Equal Arts which helped fund the project. He added: “This is a great opportunity to show exactly how a project like HenPower can make a significant and lasting difference to people’s lives. But we want the men themselves to talk about the project. It’s always a far more powerful message when the people involved talk about it.”


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