Human Henge: historic landscapes and mental health at Stonehenge

Human Henge participants down at the river bank

Heritage Grants

SALISBURY, South West
The Restoration Trust
£53400
Human Henge improved participants’ mental health by providing high quality, small group experiences of archaeology and historic landscapes.

The Restoration Trust supports people to engage with heritage and culture to improve mental health.

"Many of the participants had not previously felt confident to visit these iconic landscapes, due to ill health or lack of financial resources."

Thirty-six local adults accessing mental health services were invited to experience Stonehenge and Avebury through walking and discussion, as part of a flexible, creative ten-week programme.

Many of the participants had not previously felt confident to visit these iconic landscapes, due to ill health or lack of financial resources.

Partners

The Restoration Trust, with support from Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust, co-ordinated new cross-sector partnerships with:

  • the Richmond Fellowship, a voluntary sector mental health organisation
  • The National Trust
  • Historic England
  • Bournemouth University

These experienced partners, each with specific responsibilities, were crucial to the significant success of the project. They were able to respond to participants’ varied learning styles and their limited or fluctuating energy, make reasonable adjustments and ensure vulnerable people were safe.

"I like the walking and talking and learning all at the same time and being a human being rather than an illness or a condition or a client or an end user… I’ve actually been a human being for three months."

Participant

In doing so, they sustained positive mental health outcomes and increased self-confidence for many of the participants beyond the project.

Making a difference

The project achieved a range of outcomes:

  • A wider range of people were involved with heritage as a result of the project; and these people who had not had opportunities to visit before improved their wellbeing.
  • Evaluation showed Human Henge enabled participants to reconnect not only with their local area, but also with forgotten interests and with other people. For many, these connections had become fractured as a result of mental illness, perpetuating their sense of isolation. One of the seven dimensions of the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale is ‘feeling close to people’. In baseline data, only 12% of the participants felt close to people often or all of the time, rising to 37% in the middle of the programme, and to 47% at the end.
  • Participants learnt about heritage through active, person-centred and creative activity in small groups - during the journeys and on site at Stonehenge and Avebury. They chose activities such as poetry, music-making, dance and clay modelling alongside discussions with heritage experts.
  • As well as gaining knowledge about the sites, participants developed their communication skills, documenting their experience through photographs, creative writing and blogs, and at a Bournemouth University wellbeing conference.
  • As a result of the project, two participants are planning to volunteer with the National Trust and another has initiated a group to continue exploring local heritage.
  • Site staff in a range of roles, including curation, learning and visitor engagement, gained skills and experience in working together with people with mental health conditions and voluntary sector partners, experts in promoting recovery. By training in mental health First Aid and listening to participants’ needs – such as welcoming rooms on arrival and refreshments at the start or finish of the visits - heritage staff have been able to apply their learning to make Stonehenge and Avebury more welcoming. They are better equipped to address the inequalities faced by other visitors.

Lessons learnt

The partners were keen to understand whether there was a long-term impact in taking part in Human Henge, in addition to potentially gaining increased wellbeing, skills or confidence from the experience itself. Demonstrating good practice, a systematic evaluation exercise conducted by Bournemouth University ran alongside the programme.

The Restoration Trust plans to do further work to provide a deeper understanding of the therapeutic qualities of the historic environment.

Quantitative work was based on a questionnaire exploring engagement with heritage, alongside an individual self-assessment of mental wellbeing using the validated shortened version of the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale. This questionnaire was distributed four times (baseline, mid programme, end of programme, one year post-programme). Qualitative work consisted of focus group interviews and personal reflection at two points (end of programme and one year post-programme), and a creative activity (end of programme).

Early results show that for the majority of participants there was a positive impact upon their wellbeing which they attribute to the programme. The partners, however, recognise that with a small cohort working over comparatively short timeframes, drawing conclusions of long-term engagement requires caution.

The Restoration Trust plans to do further work to provide a deeper understanding of the therapeutic qualities of the historic environment.

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