By Rod Webb

We all know there is a crisis in elderly care. The population is aging, councils have less money and the private care home sector is losing money. Trade unions and charities were quoted in The Guardian (11/01/17) as saying ‘the care home industry is in crisis and needs help.’

Hastings is not immune with a number of care homes shutting their doors as well as the recent closure of two day centres for the elderly and disabled, the Isabel Blackman Centre in Hastings and Charter Centre in Bexhill – for financial reasons.

With so much bad news, it’s always good to hear of things that actually contribute to the welfare of our aging population, often from charities and volunteers. One charity helping older people is ‘Equal Arts’, a leader in creative support for older people and those living with dementia, based in Newcastle.

For Ambleside Care Home in Bexhill, it all started with chickens when Equal Arts decided to extend its ‘HenPower’ project. They describe this project as ‘a pioneering initiative combining hen-keeping and creativity to improve wellbeing and reduce isolation’ and further clarify it as something that ‘cultivates creativity in care settings at a time in life when most people are slowing down’. Currently more than 40 care homes are involved.

Ambleside, which specialises in dementia care, had already bought into the idea of pets for the elderly with a rabbit and a guinea pig. They leapt at the idea of extending the range when contacted by Equal Arts to take part in HenPower – apparently not the reaction of every care home the charity had contacted.

Working with HenPower led to more ambitious ideas at Ambleside. Owner, Prashant Navaratnarajah, had already seen the positive effect of musical activities on residents: “We noticed their confidence grew; they were more engaged and interacted with one another. So, it seemed a good idea to continue working with Equal Arts to find other creative outlets that would stimulate the residents.”

They came up with an innocuous sounding ‘year of varied sessions that residents’ families could join them in’, made possible through funding from Awards for All England, a quick and simple way to get small National Lottery grants of between £300 and £10,000 – of which Ambleside got the full £10,000.

The Equal Arts press release puts it more excitingly: ‘Tales of fishing, sea-faring and the town’s famous Winkle Club will inspire a year-long project aimed at bringing a community together.’

The project newsletter for January/February clarifies that the programme incorporates the history of one of the residents, Ted – whose father founded Hastings Winkle Club: ‘Ted’s daughter Lisa brought in lots of amazing photos of the history of Hastings and the Winkle Club. We have found the words to the club’s anthem The Winkle Chorus on line and we are searching for the music to accompany the chorus.’

Equal Arts’ Lucy Groenewold explained: “Living in a care home can feel like living on an island with a sense of being alone. Exploring your creativity together and learning alongside one another can really help reduce loneliness and build that sense of being a part of a community.”

Good news to follow over the coming year.

• For more information on the project visit or

• For more information on Ambleside visit

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