Pioneering creative project henergising older people living with dementia  thanks to grant from Durham Freemasons

AN inspirational hen project linking older people with chickens and creativity to combat loneliness is spreading its wings following a grant from Durham freemasons.

Over the next three years HenPower, run by creative ageing charity Equal Arts, will launch in new venues across the UK with projects in County Durham, Teesside, Cambridgeshire and Sussex.

Launched in 2012, HenPower combines hen-keeping and creative sessions led by professional artists to improve wellbeing and reduce isolation among older people and those living with dementia.

The project links residents with nearby schools and community groups to build relationships and encourage cross-generational learning.

Lindsay Sale-Thorn is activities coordinator at Pelton Grange Care Home in Chester-le-Street, one of the latest venues to join the project. She said: “In the short time we’ve been a part of the project it’s already proven beneficial. It’s been interesting to see how residents respond to the hens, especially those who would not normally venture outside. Having them here has sparked new conversation and it’s been hugely rewarding.”

The roll out has been made possible with funding of £72,000 over three years awarded by  Durham Freemasons and brings with it a host of volunteering opportunities.

Figures compiled by Alzheimer’s Research UK state more than 530,000 people had received a dementia diagnosis by August 2018 with this number expected to rise to more than a million by 2025.

There is a growing understanding that creativity remains intact long after other cognitive functions decline for people living with dementia. Creativity can support communication and help improve wellbeing.

In 2017 the Wellbeing in Later Life Index, compiled by Age UK and the University of Southampton, found that taking part in ‘creative activities’ such as the arts had the most direct influence in improving a person’s wellbeing in later life.

The grant from Durham freemasons comes through the Masonic Charitable Foundation, which is funded by freemasons, their families and friends, from across England and Wales.

Douglas Hunter, Equal Arts chief executive, said: “We’re hugely grateful to Durham Freemasons for providing even more people with the opportunity to benefit from creativity.

“HenPower gives people a role and responsibility. It moves away from the passive care you often see in care settings, supporting people to explore their creativity and form new relationships with schools, volunteers and groups in their community.

“Whether it’s supporting creative sessions, lending a hand with hen care or getting out in the garden, we’d love to hear from people who’d like to get involved.”

Michael Shaw from Durham freemasons said: “I’m very pleased we’ve been able to help HenPower with their outstanding work bringing together older people, school pupils and community volunteers. This is a really exciting and effective way of helping older people who are at risk of loneliness and isolation as well as those living with dementia.”