Museums as Spaces for Wellbeing

Roz Bonnet, 10.07.2017

On June 8th staff and volunteers from SW museums met for the first of two sessions delivered by the National Alliance for Museums, Health and Wellbeing.  The sessions aim to support museums to build skills and confidence to deliver health and wellbeing work.  The Alliance is using ACE MRF2 money to support museums to develop as spaces for wellbeing.

The health sector

We learnt about the complex and changing landscape of the health sector.  Amidst the almost constant change however, wellbeing is at the heart of the NHS’s planning.  There is a strong emphasis on preserving health and wellbeing rather than simply treating illness.

Since museums might claim to have always been places which support individuals’ and communities’ wellbeing, how can our sector take part?

The ‘5 Ways to Wellbeing’ suggests a wealth of ways that museums can integrate wellbeing-centred work in to their everyday practice.

Jo Ward, facilitating the session, alerted to the role of JSNAs in determining how health sector resources are spent.  Health sector bodies use these ‘joint strategic needs assessments’ to look at the health needs of local populations, and this determines what funds are spent on – what health and wellbeing services are commissioned in an area.  Why not have a look at the JSNA for your area?  It may help you with advocating for trying a wellbeing project, or with deciding what to focus on – and who to work with.  It’s important to think about the sustainability and scalability of any potential activity from the start – but don’t be afraid to start small, particularly to build partnerships.

Partnerships deliver results

We heard from Ruth Gidley from the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) in Exeter and Lindsey Braidley from The Roman Baths in Bath.  RAMM delivers Living Each Season sessions for those in the early stages of dementia and their carers.  The Roman Baths Museum is working with the Bath Stroke Association and a tutor from the Bath College Adult and Community Learning Team to offer Wellbeing Wonders sessions for people recovering from stroke.  Funding for the Roman Baths sessions is part of the HLF funded Archway Project.

Both museums have found that partnerships with health and community organisations have been the vital catalyst and enabler for this work.  Partnerships that came about for one purpose have ‘morphed’: they’ve opened up opportunities to carry on working together, often with new audiences and to deliver quite new activities.  This open-minded approach seems to be vital to opening the door to working on wellbeing projects.  Partners like these can share resources, expertise, facilitators, even funding – and link museums to potential participants for wellbeing activities.  Working with museums can enable these organisations to deliver on goals that are actually harder to achieve in more traditional health settings.  Both Ruth and Lyndsey commented that whilst museums are institutions, they lack the clinical, institutional feel of health settings and can be refreshing, liberating environments for participants.

A practical approach to your museums assets for wellbeing work

The workshop helped us to look at our museums in terms of the ‘assets’ they can turn to deliver wellbeing work.  Not just collections, but gardens and other outdoors spaces, as well as meeting rooms, which may be under-used.

Why not visit, the Alliance’s website, or join their mailing list It is an excellent place to start to find out what other museums both in the South West and across the country are doing to deliver wellbeing-related activities in their spaces.

Eleanor Moore and Jan Horrell, Sustainable Volunteering Officers with SWMDP are particularly interested in hearing from Accredited/working towards museums that are currently looking at developing small scale ‘volunteering for wellbeing’ projects.  Please contact us by email if you would like support from your Sustainable Volunteering Officers with planning, finding partners or seeking funding.;


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