The focus of the Symposium was on Heritage, Health and Wellbeing and the morning consisted of four case studies sharing best practice and lessons learnt from a number of innovate projects.
Fresh Art@ was a fascinating collaboration between the Holburne Museum in Bath, Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Service and the charity, Creativity Works. The project promoted wellbeing through creativity and cultural engagement. Working with service users accessing mental health services, participants created art works and then provided opportunities for the art to be displayed in the hospital or clinical setting to improve the hospital environment for others.
Workshops were carried out within clinical settings and Bath museums using the handling collections as creative inspiration. As many participants were in a crisis point with their health and well-being, museum staff and artists worked with mental health support workers to facilitate the sessions.
Outreach was a key part of the project, taking museum objects on to the ward. When participants visited the museum the welcome was a central component of the session with awareness spread across all museum staff of the project. The safe welcoming environment was vital to inspiring conversations. Many participants did not feel museums were for them and it was important to build trust.
Evaluation, as ever, was tricky but they produced Audio Image Recordings (AIR) as a great way to visually document the project whilst also protecting those who took part, you can see some of these by following the link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_PjAFx2IFU&feature=youtu.be
There is also a short video that gives you an idea of how the sessions worked, which you can find here – https://vimeo.com/258936299. Learning from the project highlighted the importance of partnership working and having a steering group made up of all partners, it was important to value the expertise of each group involved.
Learning each others language was another important step. As museum staff got to know and understand the language of mental health this spread through the whole museum from volunteers to senior management.
There was also fantastic volunteer progression as one original participant came back to volunteer and eventually give a talk at the museum. He created his own art in response to objects in the museum and even helped develop outreach sessions for a homeless shelter.
The next case study on Human Henge focussed on cultural therapy in historic landscapes. Run by the Restoration Trust in partnership with Richmond Fellowship, English Heritage, National Trust and Bournemouth University the project helps people with mental health conditions engage with art and heritage.
Laura Drysdale from the Restoration Trust talked about organised walks at StoneHenge and Avebury with an archaeologist and musician across 10 weekly 3 hour sessions. The participants learnt about pre-history, nature and had the opportunity to contribute to the creation of poems, art, songs and ceremonies. The natural environment and fresh air a healing and inspirational feature.
Daniel O’Donoghue from Richmond Fellowship raised the issue of the anxiety that participants had over the end of the project and how that could be managed. Once again partnership working was key, the barriers of cost were also a feature and it was important the sites waived the access fee to make the project a success.
It was interesting to note the healthcare commissioning groups they worked with wanted a focus on outcomes and short term projects, they were not keen for participants to develop longterm dependency on the project.
The final case study was ‘Museums on Prescription’ with Dr Linda Thomson from University College London (UCL), who looked at the academic case for a better understanding of the benefits of taking part in museum activities for isolated groups. The purpose of the project was to connect lonely people at risk of isolation to museums and galleries.
Museums on Prescription focussed on the over 65 category with participants required to not be in work or volunteering to be able to take part. Dr Thomson highlighted the research into previous types of social prescribing schemes where GP’s, nurses and other primary care professionals refer people to a range of local non-clinical services.
60% of schemes they looked into had no evaluation attached. The long waiting lists for talking therapies in London, at around 8 weeks, showed the importance of providing a range of support that could be easily accessed.
The project worked over 10 weeks with activities including object handling, guided visits to permanent displays and special exhibitions, as well as creative writing, arts and crafts, including the opportunity for groups to write their own tours. The 10 week life span worked well with university partners as it aligned well with the academic term.
Dr Thomson talked about the types of measures used to try and evaluate the project including UCL Wellbeing Measure and Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale. She felt a liaison officer in the museum would be useful rather than just an education officer as it gave the museum a dedicated focus on maintaining partnerships with different groups. She finished by praising local museums whose community location leant themselves to this type of project.
The Symposium was a fascinating insight into the types of projects going on across museums that focus on wellbeing and health. I was surprised how many strong themes came through from all projects including how crucial partnership working with charities, art practitioners and NHS commission groups are to success.
I also found that volunteer progression in particular from Fresh Art@ a real inspiration. As a volunteer myself moving from project to project at the Museum of London and now presenting to a room full of museum professionals I can see the circles of progress volunteers can make.
The anxiety over the end of an 8-10 week projects was also a common concern, with more and more volunteering programmes involving the elderly, socially isolated and those with mental health conditions perhaps the challenge is how to follow up and support volunteers when projects end. Although museums need to move on and work with new groups there is a duty of care to make sure these life changing experience don’t finish abruptly in some cases doing more harm than good.
Perhaps volunteer mentors who return to projects to support new members who may be anxious or reluctant to take part could make a real sustainable difference to both new and old volunteers. All in all heritage, health and wellbeing is a rich a varied field that we are only just beginning to really get to grips with in museums. The West of England Learning Symposium has certainly shown that the passion and creativity is certainly there to make a real difference to all different sections of society.
For more on the conference you can search on the #WELS2018 hashtag on Twitter
For more on the participants please see the links below
Fresh Art@ at the Holburne Museum http://www.holburne.org/fresh-art/
Creativity Works – http://www.creativityworks.org.uk/
Human Henge – https://humanhenge.org/
Restoration Trust – https://restorationtrust.org.uk/
Richmond Fellowship – http://www.richmondfellowship.org.uk/
Museums on Prescription – https://www.ucl.ac.uk/culture/projects/museums-on-prescription
I hope I have represented the projects fairly, any errors are purely my own.