Human Henge: historic landscapes and mental health at Stonehenge

Human Henge: historic landscapes and mental health at Stonehenge

A view of Stonehenge

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 project

The aim of this project was to enhance mental wellbeing of participants through activity and exploration in the prehistoric landscape of Stonehenge and its surrounding areas.

"If we can really prove that this model of a project works for people's mental health, there’s a possibility of it being used for social prescribing."

Laura Drysdale, director of the Restoration Trust

Human Henge organised three ten-week programmes involving 36 local adults who were accessing mental health services. It ran from September 2016 and ended in December 2018.

Human Henge participants stand on the top of a hill in bright weather
Human Henge participants experienced historic landscapes on their group walks. Photo credit: Human Henge


The organisation

The Restoration Trust enables people with mental health conditions to engage with art and heritage, which it calls culture therapy.

"If we can really prove that this model of a project works for people's mental health, there’s a possibility of it being used for social prescribing." Laura Drysdale, Director of Restoration Trust.

Partners

The Restoration Trust were supported by Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust and co-ordinated new cross-sector partnerships.

These included the Richmond Fellowship, a voluntary sector mental health organisation, The National Trust and Historic England.

A parallel research project led by partner, Bournemouth University, addressed the question of whether the project was an effective way to improve people’s mental health and wellbeing.

The funding

The National Lottery Heritage Fund awarded the Restoration Trust £53,400.

The grant was provided to fund the presence of archaeologists, curators and artists to accompany the participants and share their knowledge of prehistory and nature.

The funding provided training for staff in mental health first aid and research into participants’ needs, which could be used to create a more welcoming atmosphere at Stonehenge and Avebury.

The results

The project achieved a range of outcomes:

  • Human Henge enabled participants to reconnect not only with their local area, but also with forgotten interests and with other people
  • 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
  • as well as gaining knowledge about the sites, participants developed their communication skills


Coming together

Participants took part in singing and craft activities, learnt about archaeology and spent time walking and engaging with each other.

“It was a magical experience to walk the landscape for 10 weeks with experts treating us all as normal intelligent people, instead of people with an ‘illness’”. 

Claire, Human Henge participant

The project also held exhibitions, a conference, talks and workshops at libraries, museums, visitor centres and academic establishments.

One of the participants, Claire, said: "It was a magical experience to walk the landscape for 10 weeks with experts treating us all as normal intelligent people, instead of people with an ‘illness'".

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

Meeting our priority outcomes

Human Henge met three of our key mandatory outcomes:

  • a wider range of people were involved with heritage as a result of the project
  • people will have greater wellbeing
  • people will have developed skills


Plus, two of our three other outcomes:

  • heritage will be identified and better explained
  • people will have learnt about heritage, leading to change in ideas and actions


The future

The Restoration Trust is keen to run more projects, and plans to do further work to provide a deeper understanding of the therapeutic qualities of the historic environment.

There have been a number of post-project gatherings at Stonehenge, people continue to meet each other on private Facebook groups and take part in Restoration Trust projects. One Human Henge member is now a trustee of The Trust. 

Human Henge Online was a pilot version of four Zoom sessions live streamed from the site. The sessions were supplemented by posted culture parcels of things to do or think about before the next meeting. They finished in March 2021, with an evaluation to be completed in May 2021.

 

Particpants trek towards Stonehenge
Participants trek towards Stonehenge. Photo credit: Human Henge


Top tips

The Restoration Trust has gathered their key pieces of advice for organisations planning similar projects:

  • Take care. It is essential that people feel safe enough to take risks, so get the administrative details right – times, dates, travel, places, expenses, names, communications, the language you use. Make sure you know what to do if you are worried about someone’s health.
  • Take risks. Once you are happy that people are as safe as possible, you can collaborate to expand your shared worlds by enabling space for excitement, adventure and experiment.
  • Be kind. It sounds banal, but it really matters that people involved in the project are kind to each other from the outset.
  • Take part. If you want people to commit to the project, you need to show that you have as much invested in it as they do.
  • Keep in touch. Look to the future from the start. Listen to what people would like to do when the core element is over. Plan volunteering opportunities, meet-ups and a private online space where people can connect with each other to keep friendships alive.

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