Building relationships through heritage

Liz Ellis, Policy Adviser Communities and Diversity
Liz Ellis, Policy Adviser Communities and Diversity
Liz Ellis, Policy Adviser for Communities and Diversity, explores the theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2016 – relationships.

Our research shows that getting to know other people and connecting more with the places we live in leads to enjoyment and an increased sense of pride and belonging.

We also know that the connections we make with each other, by taking part in activities together, adds to our wellbeing and improves our overall mental health.

I’d like to share with you a couple of great projects that have brought people together.

Clay Trails

Clay Trails is an HLF-supported walking guide from the Sensory Trust.

Downloading the app or accessing the guide online introduces us to a clay trail winding through the landscape of Cornwall’s china clay mining area. We are linked with the stories of local people who lived and worked in the ‘Cornish Alps’ - as the towering clay tips are known - and introduce us to a landscape filled with birds, bees and butterflies. These sensory guides inspire us to enjoy being outdoors again and connect with nature.

The app features the work of Cornish writer Jack Clemo, who was born in Goonamarris, the heart of clay country, in 1916. Writing a range of novels, stories and a spiritual manifesto, Clemo is best remembered for his poetry about the south west of England. His lyrical, life-long passion in recording working lives and landscapes reminds me of John Clare and William Blake, two other inspirational British working class writers who connect us with past histories.

Brothers Behind Bars

Brothers Behind Bars is a creative, ambitious partnership in Scotland, where prisoners attending the Learning Centre at HMP Low Moss worked with staff at New College Lanarkshire to explore First World War histories. Participants used what they learnt to create an anthology and theatre piece, which they performed to their families and the public. The project helped to build healthier relationships for many involved, both on a personal level and with wider communities.

[quote=Brothers Behind Bars participant]“This was a brilliant project to be involved with and I learned so much... I looked forward to the class each week as it gave me a sense of purpose and direction.”[/quote]

Across the UK and for many prisoners, disrupted or poor experiences of education are connected with mental health problems. By using stories and handling resources about the First World War, in particular those imprisoned as conscientious objectors, participants built literacy, IT and scriptwriting skills to develop their play. At the same time, these enjoyable, good experiences helped expand the participants’ views around pacifism and aggression.

Using a range of learning styles and subjects including history, creative writing and drama, helped to engage a large number of prisoners in this project. The resulting performance ‘Brothers Behind Bars’ drew in the local community and helped share the educational resources. A beautifully produced anthology of flash fiction, lyrics and imagined letters home completed the group’s learning. These works have now been shared across the UK.

HLF is keen to promote the positive mental health benefits of heritage activities. You can join our discussion about heritage and health in our Online Community.

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