The scheme, part of a wider initiative funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESCR), is aimed at improving wellbeing and boosting creativity.
It saw pensioners and people living with dementia attend Sheffield’s Norfolk Heritage Park to interact with the hens, ensuring they are fed and watered, collecting eggs and taking part in creative activities.
The idea, say partners behind it, is to encourage social interaction to combat loneliness, which often affects individuals of an older age.
“Research has shown that older people in care homes are twice as likely to lonely as people living in their communities,” said Dr Andrea Wigfield, director of care connect at the University of Sheffield.
“They tend not to interact as much with each other or with care staff. The idea was to bring people together. The hens become a point of conversation.
“As soon as the hens appeared you could see their faces light up.”
Dubbed a ‘HenPower’ event, the initiative was set up by academics working with Age UK Sheffield and Equal Arts, who encourage creativity, the arts and activity amongst older people, as part of the wider Festival of Social Sciences.
Those taking part, as well as handling the birds, were encouraged to use creative skills and create artworks around the event.
Dr Wigfield said: “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.
“It’s based around art as well. If people have got dementia or can’t get out as they are frail, then the hens can be brought into the care homes and they can paint or draw them.
“Lots of people of this generation did keep hens in the past. The hens are outside, so it enables people to use outdoor space.”
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 is part of the wider ESRC Festival of Social Sciences, which has run from November 4 until today with more than 300 free events across the UK.
The festival, now in its 15th year, is designed to promote awareness of social science research by enabling scientists to engage with the public.