Helen Chatterjee (L); Miranda Stearn (R)

The conversation

Helen Chatterjee; Miranda Stearn, Issue 119/04, 01.04.2019
What are the opportunities for museums and galleries regarding social prescribing?
Dear Miranda:

There is a growing movement around social prescribing, with the announcement of 1,000 new link workers and support at a national level from Matt Hancock, the secretary of state for health and social care, who has highlighted the value of arts and museums.

Central to this opportunity is partnering with health, social-care and community third-sector organisations that understand commissioners, referrers and participants’ needs. Museums are well positioned to support physical and psychological wellbeing by offering cognitively stimulating and socially engaging programmes.

Best wishes, Helen

Dear Helen:

The social prescribing movement represents a welcome recognition from health professionals and policymakers of something many of us working in museums have known for some time – that our organisations can play a part in enhancing health and wellbeing. At University of Cambridge Museums, we have been partnering with Arts and Minds on a three-year National Lottery Heritage Fund-supported project.

GPs refer people experiencing mild to moderate anxiety or depression on to artist-led activities in our museum spaces, inspired by our collections. This offers us the opportunity to reach people who, for the most part, would not otherwise have become involved in the life of the museum, and to form meaningful connections with them. The museums become safe, welcoming places, with some people taking up further opportunities, such as volunteering.

Best wishes, Miranda

Dear Miranda:

Considerable challenges need to be addressed, notably around the sustainability and evaluation of programmes – in other words, knowing what works. Referrers need to be sure that social prescribing programmes are tackling the complex needs of participants, which requires partnership working to understand how best to tailor museum programmes to support specific health and wellbeing outcomes. We undertook research, developing a Museums on Prescription scheme, which found that museum programmes improved psychological wellbeing, increased self-esteem and optimism, and reduced social isolation.

Best wishes, Helen

Dear Helen:

Sustainable partnerships are crucial, and we would not have embarked on this programme without Arts and Minds and its expertise in this area. Sustainability is a challenge financially. The elephant in the room for our project is that it is generously supported by lottery money; the referral partners don’t commit any resources, and until the health sector recognises social prescribing as cost effective, rather than free, programmes won’t be sustainable.

Recent policy announcements suggest we are heading in the right direction, although none of the 23 government-funded pilots unveiled in 2018 was specifically museum or arts related. So we have work to do, as a sector, to make sure we take our place alongside more familiar initiatives.

Best wishes, Miranda

Dear Miranda:

The great news is there are lots of resources to support organisations interested in social prescribing. The Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance has a strong focus on social prescribing and has a free training package. The Social Prescribing Network and NHS Social Prescribing web pages have lots of useful resources, including a summary guide setting out what good social prescribing looks like.

Best wishes, Helen

Dear Helen:

Our experience of working with an arts and health charity that had a track record with “arts of prescription” as a model was valuable, and I recommend finding out who you might collaborate with and learn from locally. Linking up with your regional Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance network might be helpful. Likewise, we tend to be a sector that is generous with our time and experience, so get in touch with projects similar to what you want to do.

Best wishes, Miranda

Helen Chatterjee is the professor of Biology at University College London; Miranda Stearn, is the head of learning at University of Cambridge Museums’ Fitzwilliam Museum

Comments