Sheffield hosts hen party to help curb loneliness in older people

  • People living with dementia in Sheffield got the chance to interact with chickens to help improve their wellbeing and boost creativity
  • The HenPower event is part of the University of Sheffield’s Festival of Social Sciences funded by the Economic and Social Research Council

Elderly person with chicken

Academics from the University of Sheffield have teamed up with charities Age UK Sheffield and Equal Arts to host a special event (8 November 2017), giving people living with dementia the chance to interact with chickens in a bid to curb loneliness and encourage creativity.

The event, which is part of the wider ESRC Festival of Social Sciences funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, is the brainchild of the University of Sheffield, Age UK Sheffield and Equal Arts, who encourage creativity, the arts and activity amongst older people. Equal Arts developed HenPower, which brings older people and chickens together to combat loneliness and depression and improve wellbeing.

The aptly dubbed ‘Hensioners’ are encouraged to hen-keep, caring for the chickens by ensuring they are fed and watered, collecting eggs and interacting with them through the creative arts, which equally benefits both hen and hensioner.

At the event, hosted at Norfolk Heritage Park in Sheffield, people living with dementia got the chance to be hensioners for the day. They met the chickens from HenPower and were able to handle them and interact with them for the morning. They also had the chance to put their artistic skills into practice and created chicken inspired art, something that Equal Arts routinely encourage.

Dr Andrea Wigfield, Director of Care Connect at the University of Sheffield said: “Today’s event was a perfect example of how simple and easy it is to help curb loneliness in older people and those living with dementia. Here at the University of Sheffield we have some of the world leaders in social science research, many of whom conduct extensive and ground breaking research into loneliness and wellbeing.

“This one of a kind event is not the first time the University of Sheffield has researched and examined wellbeing and loneliness. One of the main aims of the ESRC funded Festival of Social Sciences is for people to learn more about how innovative social science is tackling the issues that individuals and societies face today through exciting and immersive events. One of the most important issues societies face today is loneliness. This event was not only a positive day for all involved but will also help us examine loneliness in greater detail.”

Elderly person with chicken

Group of elderly people with chicken

Douglas Hunter, Co-Director of Equal Arts, said: “A 12-month independent study of HenPower found it reduces loneliness and depression in older people and those living with dementia. We hear regularly how bringing hen-keeping and creativity together is hugely benefiting those involved.

“It’s amazing to have gone from such humble beginnings in one care setting in the North East to supporting thousands of older people and communities across England and globally.”

Steve Chu, CEO of Age UK Sheffield said: “We were delighted to bring HenPower to our Wellbeing Centre and our customers loved the event. The experience we provide to people with dementia and memory loss at the Wellbeing Centre is high quality and informed by academic research, so this was a great event to be involved in.”

The event, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council is part of the wider ESRC Festival of Social Sciences, which hosts free events across Sheffield and gives the public a chance to immerse themselves in world leading social science research and engage with academics from across Sheffield.

The Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Sheffield has a longstanding reputation for delivering world class research and teaching. Our research addresses the major challenges facing society and our ideas are leading academic debates internationally and shaping policy and practice across the globe.

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Additional Information

The University of Sheffield
With almost 27,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2017 and was voted number one university in the UK for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education in 2014. In the last decade it has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective.

The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund crossdisciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government.

The 2017 ESRC Festival of Social Science takes place from 4-11 November with over 300 free events across the UK. The festival, now in its fifteenth year, is designed to promote awareness of social science research by enabling scientists to engage with the public through debates, talks, workshops, seminars, film screenings, theatre, exhibitions and much more. The festival is a unique opportunity for people to meet with some of the country’s leading social scientists and to discover more about the role research plays in their everyday life. A full programme is available at Join the discussion on Twitter using #esrcfestival. Logos for the festival can be downloaded from the ESRC website.

Equal Arts
Earlier this year Equal Arts, a creative ageing charity based in the North East, was awarded the Specialist Provider in the Care Home Awards 2017 for its work bringing creativity into care.

In February 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 activities that older people took part in included dancing, playing a musical instrument, visiting museums, photography, singing, painting and writing.

In 2016 guidelines from the National Institute of Clinical of Excellence (NICE) focused on improving the mental wellbeing and independence of people aged 65 and older. Recommendations included providing group-based activities focusing on creativity such as singing, arts and crafts.

Age UK Sheffield
Age UK Sheffield is an independent local charity, supporting people aged 50 and over in Sheffield. In 2016/17 we supported 4,000 older people in Sheffield with recorded casework. Our Wellbeing Centre provides day services for people living with memory loss and dementia.


For further information please contact:

Mary Hickey
Media and Communications Officer
The University of Sheffield
0114 2221034