Heritage Health & Happiness

  • 19 Jul 2019

On Monday afternoon Historic Houses’ policy team took a short trip to the House of Lords to participate in the Heritage and Wellbeing roundtable of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Arts Health and Wellbeing. We were joined by colleagues in the sector including representatives from the National Trust, Historic England and the Heritage Lottery Fund to discuss the challenges and opportunities for heritage bodies to engage in wellbeing strategies.

‘Wellbeing’ may seem a nebulous concept, but it is rising rapidly on the policy agenda, and has been encouraging the government to invest in programmes which contribute to the life satisfaction and happiness of our population. Wellbeing encompasses mental and physical health, personal growth, social connections and engagement with our communities and environment. In short, wellbeing helps people not just to survive, but to thrive! And there are plenty of ways in which historic houses and gardens can support and indeed champion this agenda.

Lord Howarth, who chaired the meeting, invited Historic Houses to highlight some of the ways in which our house members are utilising the ‘incredible heritage’ in their care to benefit the health and wellbeing of their local communities. AJ Langer (Countess of Devon) presented Powderham Castle’s fantastic wellbeing strategy, which includes yoga sessions in the Castle’s dining room and evening mindfulness walks in their Pleasure Gardens. Powderham is also working with local community groups to develop sensory trails in partnership with children with autism and adults with dementia. Our Director General Ben Cowell went on to highlight other examples of our house members’ work in wellbeing, including the adult day care centre that Penton Park provides to its community three days a week. 

In acknowledging the social advantages of these programmes, the committee discussed the need for greater investment in wellbeing strategies, especially given the potentially significant fiscal benefits for the health sector. ‘Social prescribing’ is a holistic approach to health, in which individuals with long term conditions, mental health issues or complex social needs can be connected to opportunities for volunteering, arts or outdoor activities. This approach has been shown to have significant success in improving quality of life and life satisfaction, and could also help to reduce the burden of treatment on the NHS. It was agreed that heritage properties are well placed to contribute to this innovative solution to public health, especially as they naturally benefit from aesthetic and harmonious settings.

It was a sentiment shared by all at the meeting that heritage holds the power to uplift spirits, with evidence presented from researchers to demonstrate the long term positive cognitive effect of cultural engagement. Throughout the roundtable we were reminded of the benefit of independently owned and run heritage sites, which are embedded in communities throughout the UK and able to effectively engage with local needs and interests. Historic environments were shown not only to be opportunities for recreation and learning, but for fostering social cohesion, creating a sense of belonging, and providing limitless opportunities for personal and communal enrichment.   

Going forward, we in the policy team at Historic Houses are keen to promote the fantastic contribution our member houses and gardens can make to health and wellbeing, and to shine a light on those already involved. Whether it’s cycling festivals, accessible rambles, dementia cafes or art therapy workshops, our house members are great examples of heritage sites forging partnerships with their communities to enhance our collective wellbeing. 

We’re here to help, so if you’re a house member interested in finding out more about what others are doing in health and wellbeing, and what you might be able to offer, do contact us: policy@historichouses.org

Lydia Gibson, Policy Officer, Historic Houses


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