Helen Chatterjee, Professor of Biology at University College London

Helen Chatterjee, Professor of Biology at University College London, describes how winning two RSPH awards in 2017 provided publicity, kudos and advocacy for the Museums on Prescription project.

Museums on Prescription was a three-year research project exploring the value of museum-based social prescribing programmes for lonely older adults at risk of social isolation.

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council the project was a collaboration between University College London and Canterbury Christ Church University, and seven museums in central London and Kent who ran an exciting and stimulating range of programmes for older adults.

Participants in the study were referred by social and psychological services, and local third sector and community organisations. In its first phase, we reviewed over 100 social prescribing schemes and assessed what worked and in Phase 2, translated these practices into action by carrying out 12, ten-week programmes of museums-based activities attended by 115 participants in groups of around 8-10.

We entered Museums on Prescription for the Health & Wellbeing Awards in 2017 because of the considerable potential for museums to play a key role in improving public health.

Our review showed that over 60 per cent of UK social prescribing schemes had no published evaluation, and other museums-based schemes were relatively short-lived, so we were especially keen to highlight the importance of developing cross-sector partnerships across academia, museums, health, social care and third sector organisations to develop innovative non-clinical, creative, health interventions, backed up by a robust evidence base.

Another reason for entering Museums on Prescription was the significant public health impact of loneliness and social isolation; only recently, a Minister for Loneliness (Tracey Crouch MP) has been appointed to work with the Commission for Loneliness, and our project has shown that museums, arts and heritage have significant potential to ameliorate loneliness and reduce isolation.

We were delighted to win not only one but two prestigious RSPH awards, the Arts & Health category in the Health & Wellbeing Awards and a special commendation for Sustainable Development from Public Health England.

It was very exciting to be part of the RSPH Awards ceremony and receive the awards on behalf of everyone who contributed to the project, and the awards were a tangible reflection of their support and hard work.

Winning these awards has given publicity, kudos and advocacy to the Museums on Prescription project and the team. It would not have been possible without the involvement and support of our many partners, to whom we are indebted:

  • The British Museum
  • Canterbury City Museums and Galleries: The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge
  • Central Saint Martin’s Museum and Study Collection
  • Maidstone Museum & Bentlif Art Gallery
  • The Postal Museum
  • Tunbridge Wells Museums & Art Gallery
  • UCL Museums & Collections
  • Age UK Camden, Canterbury, Islington, Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells
  • Camden Carers
  • Camden Community Connectors
  • Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust (Camden Psychological Services)
  • The Claremont Project, Islington
  • Kent and Medway NHS Partnership Trust
  • Kent County Council (Children, Families and Education)
Project friends
  • Arts Council England
  • Royal Society for Public Health
  • New Economics Foundation (NEF Consulting)

If you are thinking of entering the Health & Wellbeing Awards, our advice would be to firstly check that your project matches the criteria specified for the appropriate category. Then consider its longer-term impacts and outputs, in particular the legacy created by the project and how it might affect both local and national health and wellbeing policy in the future.

Best of luck with your entry!