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Study suggests heritage volunteering can improve wellbeing

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A new study supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has suggested that there are significant wellbeing benefits for people volunteering on heritage projects.

The study – Inspiring Futures: Volunteering for Wellbeing – was financed by a £528,700 (US$682,872, €605,775) grant from the HLF.

Taking place between March 2013 and December 2016, 231 local people in Manchester who were long-term unemployed, socially isolated or had wellbeing challenges, were recruited for a bespoke training programme designed to help their respective situations.

Taking place at IWM North, Manchester Museum and Museum of Science and Industry, the training helped participants secure volunteer places at a number of heritage venues in the northwest of England, including the Whitworth Art Gallery and People’s History Museum.

According to an evaluation of the project, more than 75 per cent of participants reported significant increases in wellbeing over the course of a year, with almost 60 per cent reporting improvements over two to three years. Additionally, more than 30 per cent of participants gained new employment or opportunities for getting into work thanks to the wellbeing programme.

According to the HLF, the project’s success has led to talks with the Central Manchester Clinical Commissioning Group and Mental Health services, exploring the possibility of ‘social prescribing’, a process where patients would be ‘prescribed’ museum and gallery volunteering opportunities to improve their mental and physical wellbeing.

“Inspiring Futures (if) has been a very successful programme showing that the intervention worked for the target groups, the majority benefiting from sustained outcomes for almost three years after the initial placements,” said the evaluation.

“The if model provided opportunities for catalysing wellbeing improvement, or preventing deterioration, through volunteering in natural and cultural heritage settings. This was of great benefit to participants who were marginalised, disadvantaged or suffered from barriers to participation.”

The report also said that tracking of participants’ outcomes in the long term showed an estimated economic value of approximately £2m (US$2.6m, €2.3m) across the three years period, meaning an approximate social and economic return of £3.50 for every £1 invested.

“We know the far-reaching benefits volunteer time, dedication and passion can bring to heritage organisations,” said Nathan Lee, head of HLF North West. “This is an inspiring project that should be used as an example for heritage venues across the UK.”

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A new study supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has suggested that there are significant wellbeing benefits for people volunteering on heritage projects.
VAT,HAM,TRA
The volunteer and training scheme was shown to improve participants' wellbeing over the course of three years / Heritage Lottery Fund

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