Heritage and positive mental health

Gardeners at Lloyd Park in Walthamstow
In her second blog post about diversity and inclusion in heritage projects, Liz Ellis, HLF Communities and Diversity Policy Adviser, has been finding out how heritage activities can have a positive impact on mental health.

We’ve funded thousands of projects that promote mental health and wellbeing through active participation in oral history, archaeology and natural heritage projects. I recently visited some of these projects to find out how they benefit those taking part.

Planting personal happiness

On a cold bright day in March, I visited the Lloyd Park Gardeners at Lloyd Park and William Morris Gallery, a community-based project in Walthamstow, London. It was inspiring to hear from volunteer gardeners about what made them come out every week, whatever the weather, to weed and nurture the gardens. One volunteer told me: “Gardening brings us together!”

“It gave me so much confidence at a low point.”Lloyd Park gardening volunteer

Each volunteer talked about how being part of the group helped the garden and local area look great, as well as giving them personal happiness. The gardeners talked honestly about their experiences of hard times, including bereavement, unemployment or loneliness  that had made life feel tough. Being part of a group that achieved tangible goals - trees planted, beds weeded or mulch spread - made a difference to each of them. Another volunteer told me: “It gave me so much confidence at a low point.”

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Inclusive archaeology

This positive impact on personal wellbeing was also reflected in the thoughts and opinions of those involved with the ‘Digability’ Inclusive Archaeology Education Project in Yorkshire.

“I feel better about myself.”Inclusive Archaeology participant

The project had been working with the Workers Educational Association over the last three years to change attitudes about who gets involved with heritage. Adults who use mental health services and participants with learning disabilities took part in the fully inclusive project, with everyone sharing the work.

As I learned more about this project, I found myself energised by all of the participants’ positive feedback. One participant said: “I liked the positive attitude the tutor brings to the group. It rubs off on me,” and another said: “I feel better about myself.”

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Learning and skills

Education and learning play an important part in many heritage projects. Brighton Housing Trust Heritage has been providing employment skills to adults moving on from homelessness, while restoring the beautiful and much-loved St Stephen’s Hall.

“I can stand on my own two feet now.”Practical learning programme participant

Participants take part in a practical learning programme, which focuses on skills in carpentry, photography, up-cycling and conservation. One participant, who had been unwell with depression and acute anxiety, and who is now self-employed, said: “The course has been challenging but worthwhile. I would definitely Iike to attend further educational courses in the future… I can stand on my own two feet now; it is a relief to be independent.”

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Healthy heritage

These projects offer just a small snapshot into how heritage can contribute towards positive mental health and wellbeing. You can find another example of a great project involving young people in our news section.

In my next blog in early July I’ll be exploring heritage projects across Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, where people with learning disabilities are exploring social history archives and sharing these histories through public exhibitions and events. 

I’m looking forward to sharing these great projects with you ­- here’s to all our enjoyment of positive mental health and wellbeing ‘til then!

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