CHICKENS will brighten older people’s lives in care homes on Tyneside thanks to lottery funds.
The poultry will provide a therapeutic focus for residents and a link with their previous independent lives.
And if the 18-month pilot scheme in Gateshead proves to be a success, it could be rolled out nationally.
The scheme began when William Anderson moved into Gateshead Council-run Shadon House care home in Birtley, which is a dementia assessment and respite centre.
He told staff how much he missed his hens, so home manager Joanne Matthewson, contacted Gateshead-based Equal Arts, which has run activities at Shadon House.
Equal Arts, a charity with 25 years’ experience of setting up creative projects with older people in residential care homes, day care centres and in the community, provided half a dozen hens.
“William loved it and the other residents also love the hens,” said Equal Arts director Douglas Hunter.
“Hens are fascinating creatures. You can watch them for two minutes or two hours and many of the residents have kept poultry or other pets.
“Having the hens means that they can be responsible for something by feeding the poultry, letting them out in the morning and putting them back at night.
“The hens are absorbing. They have made an absolutely positive contribution and take away anxiety.”
Based on the success of the Birtley venture, Equal Arts secured £164,000 in Big Lottery funding for an 18-month expanded scheme.
Working with Bill Quay Community Farm in Gateshead, 30 older men who live independently but are vulnerable and isolated, will introduce hens to another eight care homes and help staff and residents to care for them.
A programme of hen-related activities will be delivered to include everything from recording the social history of poultry keeping to baking and digital photography.
The programme will include hen-focused friends and family, schools and community days.
Joanne Matthewson said: “Anything which entertains residents and gives them an interest is welcome.
“A lot of the rooms look out on to our garden where the hens can run around.
“It is very therapeutic and brings comfort to residents.”