Dr Desi Gradinarova, Senior Policy Adviser for Wellbeing and Inclusion at Historic England and National Lead for the Historic Environment at National Academy for Social Prescribing, invites us to reconnect with our local heritage. In this first blog of a series of three, she shows us how our historic environment can help us be healthy, feel good and stay positive.

In these bleak winter days of isolation, we need more than hope to maintain our strength, perseverance and humanity. We need inspiration. One of the unexpected consequences of the current pandemic is that people connected more with their local heritage during the daily strolls they have been taking in towns, villages and parks since March 2020[1]. We started to appreciate the environment around us more – both the natural and the historic environment – and this is because it provides for both our physical and mental health needs.

The historic environment is all around us and plays a big role in our individual and community wellbeing – even if we don’t realise it. The street and neighbourhood we live in, the local church or temple we go to, the nearby park we jog through, the high street where we meet friends or shop, the old cinema which we pass by every day, the war memorial on the village green, the historic house with the lovely Christmas market and even our local pub  – they are all part of our heritage and make our cities, towns and villages what they are.

Heritage is about the people who live in those places– their memories and their lives, their communities and values, their needs and their aspirations. It was people who shaped the historic environment around us over the centuries and will continue to do so in future. Whether we realise it or not, our health and wellbeing have always been deeply connected with our heritage. Not only does it offer us places to go and be active, explore and learn about our past, but it actually brings us together, allows us to connect with memories, reminisce with others.

It provides an opportunity to connect with neighbours and friends, learn more about each other and strengthen our feelings of belonging and identity.

Next time you go out for your daily dose of exercise, take notice of what is around you and how it makes you feel. Next time you are browsing on your phone trying to overcome the lockdown boredom, search for information about your local heritage sites or the history of your local pub. Next time you chat to the neighbour over the fence, ask them what they like most about this place.

Today, more than ever, we need the historic environment to help us make sense of who we are, why we are here and how we can come back together stronger.

Find out more on Historic England’s website – Heritage & Wellbeing.

Dr Desi Gradinarova, Senior Policy Adviser for Wellbeing and Inclusion at Historic England and National Lead for the Historic Environment at National Academy for Social Prescribing

[1] Heritage and the Society 2020 (Heritage Counts, Historic England, 2020)