A pioneering project using hens to tackle loneliness and social exclusion has been launched in London.

Funded by the Big Lottery and endorsed by Boris Johnson after a successful launch in the North East, HenPower involves elderly residents – who are known as hensioners – being given responsibility for care of the animals.

The first hen-houses have been built at residential homes run by Notting Hill housing association in Marylebone and Hammersmith.

Equal Arts, the charity that runs the scheme, said it had improved wellbeing and helped reduce the reliance of some residents on medication.

Ruth Xavier, 80, a hensioner at the home in Penfold Street, Marylebone, used to have chickens during her childhood in Trinidad. “This is really nice,” she said. “It gives me something to do.

“They become like children for me: are they going to be naughty? Are they all right? I go down at night to see that they are in, then I go to bed.”

The first four hens at Penfield Street have been named Lady Gaga, Henrietta, Katie and Renee. Care manager Wendy Wilson said Lady Gaga appeared the most likely to lay the first egg.

“Every day we are out here with anticipation,” she said. “We are not quite sure what we are going to do with it at the moment – whether we are going to cook it, save it, decorate it. We will have a discussion with the residents what we do with the first egg, and who gets it.”

Dani Singer, a creative engagement associate at Equal Arts, said many residents had grown-up with hens, either at home or during wartime evacuation to the countryside.

She said: “The idea of animals being therapeutic in care settings isn’t a new one. In Newcastle they quickly realised that having the hens quickly gave people an element of responsibility and purpose in their lives that perhaps they have been lacking or didn’t have access to since they moved into the care setting.

“The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Even people who started out saying ‘I don’t like hens’ or ‘I shan’t be getting involved’, they are out here day in, day out.”

Mr Johnson said: “HenPower is an innovative way to help tackle loneliness and enhance the lives of older Londoners. The capital’s older population is growing and it’s great that Londoners will now have the opportunity to take part in this valuable scheme.”

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