Dr Desi Gradinarova, Senior Policy Adviser for Wellbeing and Inclusion at Historic England and National Lead for the Historic Environment at NASP, invites us to reconnect with our local heritage. In her second blog of a series of three, she reflects on the benefits of engaging with our historic environment, and the evidence behind this.

There is a growing body of research that is proving how heritage benefits people’s wellbeing. Heritage and Society (2019), produced by Historic England as part of the Heritage Counts series, showed that engaging with or living near heritage is associated with higher life satisfaction and quality of life. The research highlighted the therapeutic effects of historic landscapes, ‘blue’ spaces (such as canals, rivers) and ‘green’ spaces (such as historic parks), and the importance of shared identity and connection. This helps both the NHS and the economy, as shown by Daniel Fujiwara in his 2015 study, who estimated that visiting heritage sites saves the NHS over £193.2 million through reductions in GP and psychotherapy appointments, with a further contribution of £105.1 million from museums[1].

In 2008 the Government Office of Science published a report on Mental Capital and Wellbeing in which they promoted the five ways to wellbeing. These suggestions for individual action to promote the process of wellbeing were: Be Active, Give, Keep Learning, Connect and Take Notice.

Since then, Historic England has continued to support and develop many programmes which have been delivering wellbeing to our society for years – such as Heritage at Risk, Heritage Schools and a plethora of volunteering and research projects. Later this year, our Historic England’s Heritage and Wellbeing strategy will advocate the historic environment’s capacity for contributing towards wellbeing and shows how it can make a positive difference to the wellbeing and potential of people, individually and collectively.

Many heritage organisations, from The Canal and River Trust and the National Lottery Heritage Fund to archaeological companies and local amenity societies followed suite and developed strategies and plans which have now put wellbeing at the core of what they do. The range of wellbeing opportunities provided by the heritage sector is very well demonstrated in the latest Heritage Alliance report on Heritage, Health and Wellbeing.

All this evidence shows that heritage can support our wellbeing in the following ways:

  • By connecting with places that are meaningful for us (using the five ways to wellbeing);
  • By making visits to inspiring heritage sites;
  • Through participating in activities related to our heritage.

It’s so important to continue to connect through our local and national heritage and by supporting our community and personal wellbeing.  With social distancing restrictions, we can still do this through applying the five ways to wellbeing:

  • be active – go outside and explore those special landscapes around us;
  • keep learning – expand our knowledge about our past and the places we live in;
  • connect with our community and its heritage, feel that we belong to something bigger and meaningful;
  • give – by supporting our community and volunteering at some of the special places around us in time of need;
  • and take notice of what’s around us – from our street to the local park, church, bridge or historic building

Think about what they all mean to us, our community and our lives in that place. Find out more on Historic England’s website – Heritage & Wellbeing.

Read Desi’s next blog in this series

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] Fujiwara, D., and MacKerron, G., Cultural Activities, art forms and wellbeing (Arts Council England, 2015)