THE CHICKEN whisperer is the nickname given to a Teesside care home resident due to her uncanny ability to calm an intake of feathered friends.
Mandale House Care Home, on Acklam Road, in Thornaby, has recently welcomed three new chickens as part of the HenPower project, run by charity Equal Arts.
Upon arrival, 93-year-old Irene Fleming built an immediate rapport with the birds, having years of experience looking after hens from her time in the Women’s Land Army during the Second World War.
After chatting to the creatures and calming them when they got flustered, Equal Arts associate Raël Rawlinson dubbed Irene “the chicken whisperer”.
Irene said: “I love having hens here at Mandale. They’re such good girls. They remind me of my flock when I was a land girl.”
Irene joined the Women’s Land Army shortly after the outbreak of the War and was based at Shincliff Hall, near Durham.
She recalled: “I did all of the usual farm duties – planting, harvesting and mucking out – but my favourite thing was to work with the hens.
“The hens thought I was their mum as they would come when I called them. I would sing to them while I worked and they liked the sound of my voice.
“I named one Veronica after my friend. At first Veronica wasn’t very happy at sharing her name with a chicken but after a while she came round.
“The other Land Army girls said I was barmy because I loved the chickens so much.”
During this time she met her husband, Lesley, who was an agricultural student at Houghall College, in Durham. He also worked on the farm during the War.
The pair later married in April 1949 at Saint Peter and Saint Paul Church, in South Shields. They celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary earlier this year.
After the Women’s Land Army, Irene secured a job as an agricultural worker on a farm at Gilly West, near Richmond, where she continued looking after chickens, among other duties.
She has been able to rekindle her passion for hen keeping with the latest arrivals at Mandale House Care Home – who have been named Dolly, Penny and Nancy.
The HenPower project, which aims to improve wellbeing and reduce loneliness among the elderly, also includes weekly creative sessions run by Equal Arts associates.
The project was officially launched at the home by Thornaby Mayor Cllr Steve Walmsley and Mayoress Cllr Sylvia Walmsley.
Mayor Walmsley said: “The latest invite received from Mandale House to Sylvia and I in our capacity as Mayor and Mayoress of Thornaby was unusual to say the least.
“The wonderful staff at Mandale House had recently embarked on a project to introduce three new egg laying residents to the home and decided to make it a special event. And so with great fanfare – or maybe henfare – I introduced three hens into the home via a red carpet laden with food to entice the new residents.
“Congratulations to Mandale House for such an innovative idea to introduce three adorable creatures into the home to stimulate and fascinate residents as well as producing freshly laid eggs.”
Louise Clements, home manager at Mandale House Care Home, said: “I would like to say a massive thank you to Equal Arts and their HenPower Project as well as Mayor and Mayoress Walmsley for attending the launch event.
“The hens have settled in really well and are already a hit with our residents, especially our very own chicken whisperer Irene Fleming.
“Everyone is thoroughly enjoying the weekly creative sessions and we look forward to working with the charity going forward.”