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How museums help to contribute to our wellbeing

Wellbeing in museums

How museums help to contribute to our wellbeing

​There is still much debate surrounding the role of wellbeing in museums  and within society, and their responsibilities towards social issues. National agendas that are governmental led require other services to facilitate these initiatives, providing health education beyond a medical framework. As outlined in my previous blog, museums are already working with, and supporting, individuals affected by dementia and memory loss, a common attribute of old age, but what are they doing in response to modern lifestyle diseases and their causes, such as obesity or smoking?

Museums have always been educators, specifically focusing on their chosen theme or topic. They have developed a foundation of trust in providing information, but what if this stretches beyond their presumed remit, challenging the service delivery we expect from them? Seen as “free choice” learning sites, as we choose whether or not to engage with these resources, museums can generate a platform for complex topics to be discussed in a variety of accessible formats, within an environment specifically designed for the public. For medical museums, such as the Thackray Museum, health and medicine is ingrained into their organisation, so how do other sites communicate health and wellbeing in museums through their everyday activities or exhibitions?

As well as being potential barriers to engagement with museums – social, economic, political, environmental and cultural issues can also impact on our health. For the diverse audience that museums receive, one common link that unites them all is that health impacts everyone.

In 2008 the New Economics Foundations introduced Five Ways to Wellbeing, identifying wellbeing as a combination of feeling good and functioning well. It is essential to stay:

  • connected, engaging and socialising with others;
  • be active, physically and mentally;
  • take notice of our surroundings, observing and absorbing;
  • keep learning new things, expand our knowledge staying curious; and
  • give our time and attention to others.

Many museums are adopting this model in the delivery of their activities, through interpretation and collections, embedding wellbeing into the framework of their organisation, not just as an added element. Focus is moving away from object led to people led, identifying the needs of the audience, and understanding how collections and activities can be used to support them and communicate key issues.

I was fortunate to attend the National Alliance for Museums, Health and Wellbeing Conference held at the Thackray Medical Museum in Leeds. Having lived in Leeds for 12 years it was like returning home, and participating in discussions and activities within a museum I am familiar with, my personal wellbeing was in good health.


Understanding of the bigger societal message on physical and mental health needs to be addressed. Museums have a role in the delivery of health issues, acting as advocates and facilitators of local and national agendas, emphasising their commitment to the needs of their visitors and the community. Health and wellbeing is a social problem that needs to be tackled by all public services.

Mansfield Museum is hosting a Health and Wellbeing Festival comprised of 70 free events across 7 sites in the town, running from Saturday 25th March to Saturday 8th April. There will be opportunities to try out activities such as yoga and painting, as well as demonstrations on wheelchair basketball and advice from medical and safety partners, including the Stroke Association and the Fire Brigade.

The full listings of the events can be found here: http://www.mansfield.gov.uk/museum/Health%20and%20Wellbeing/Mansfield%20Museum%20Health%20and%20Wellbeing%20Festival.pdf

By Anne-Marie Rooney, Resilience Syndicate Intern at Mansfield Museum



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