Touching Heritage: Community Health and Wellbeing Promotion through Sustainable and Inclusive Volunteer Programming in the Museums Sector

By Nicholas Vogelpoel, Betsy Lewis-Holmes, Linda Thomson and Helen Chatterjee.

Published by The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The potential for museums to operate as agents of change in the promotion of social inclusion and health and wellbeing is a growing area of research and is aligned with the intersections between cultural engagement and public health. Using a case study analysis, this paper will discuss implications and findings of research and practice arising from a heritage-in-health programme called 'Touching Heritage: Objects to Healthcare' (hereafter ‘Touching Heritage’) funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, as part of their ‘Your Heritage’ funding stream. The project takes museum objects from University College London collections out to people who by virtue of their health or age would otherwise be excluded from participating in cultural activities, such as those who are hospitalised, attending day or community centres or residents of care homes or sheltered housing. The project extends access to a wide variety of heritage objects, and actively involves socially excluded/isolated communities and individuals in participatory sessions. The paper will discuss the potential for museums to promote health and wellbeing by recruiting and training volunteers to become community curators and object-handling facilitators. Using a mixed-methods approach to data collection, including surveys, focus groups, interviews and reflexive feedback, the paper will discuss findings related to best practice for the development of volunteer led outreach programmes that partner museums to hospitals and community healthcare services. The paper will discuss implications for sustainable practice, satellite programming, and best practice in heritage-in-health work.

Keywords: Heritage-in-health, Health, Wellbeing, Volunteer, Outreach, Community, Object Handling, Reflexivity, Participant Action Research

The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp.109-119. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 514.088KB).

Nicholas Vogelpoel

Project Co-ordinator, Museums and Public Engagement, University College London, London, n/a, UK

Nicholas is an arts-health researcher and practitioner specialising in disability studies and social inclusion policy. Nicholas was co-ordinator of the ‘Touching Heritage’ project at University College London investigating the impact of museum object-handling in clinical and community healthcare settings on participants’ health and wellbeing. Nicholas’s research interests are translational health research within disability studies, trans-institutionalisation in social care services and health and wellbeing promotion and evaluation in the museum and cultural sector.

Ms Betsy Lewis-Holmes

Outreach Coordinator, Museums and Public Engagement, UCL, UK

Betsy Lewis-Holmes RCA is an arts professional whose experience spans exhibitions, education and research. Betsy was also a co-ordinator of the ‘Touching Heritage’ project at University College London. Before moving to UCL, Betsy spent five years with a London Borough’s Arts Service, coordinating an art and mental health programme and curating exhibitions and public arts projects. Betsy is also a research assistant for the Royal College of Art, and recently coordinated a Welcome Trust conference on Medical Humanities. She is interested in the boundaries between creativity, wellbeing and health.

Linda Thomson

Linda Thomson is a cognitive psychologist specialising in quantitative research methods, learning and memory. She has been lead researcher on the Heritage in Hospitals project and follow-on programmes of dissemination and evaluation of heritage-specific wellbeing measures for the last 5 years.

Helen Chatterjee

Deputy Director of Museums, Museums and Public Engagement, University College London, London, UK

Helen Chatterjee is Head of Research and Teaching at UCL Museums and a Senior Lecturer in Biology in UCL Biosciences at University College London. She is Principal Investigator on the Heritage in Hospitals and Touching Heritage projects discussed in the article and author of two books: Museums, Health and Wellbeing, and Touch in Museums.

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