Historic Royal Palaces, London - Museums Association

Historic Royal Palaces, London

Mental health in heritage settings
Jana Haragalova and Kim Klug
Sensory Palaces is a health and wellbeing programme for people living with dementia and their carers.

As part of the programme’s development stage in 2014, Historic Royal Palaces piloted the project with different audiences of vulnerable adults, including people living with mental health issues. This helped us gather valuable experience working with mental wellbeing objectives.

For the people living with mental health issues, the team developed and delivered a series of six creative freelancer-led workshops, which put stimulating the senses and storytelling at their heart.  

In each case, emphasis was placed on one or two particular senses during the 90-minute workshop with the aim of helping participants make connections to the historic environment and the people who lived and worked in our palaces.  

For example, participants used taste and smell to learn what life was like in Kew Palace’s Kitchens. At Banqueting House, participants explored the palace’s architecture and artwork using sound and movement.

For many of the participants, this was their first encounter with our palaces. Initial evaluation found that in addition to fostering relationships and creating access to these spaces, workshops had a considerable positive impact on the participants’ health and wellbeing.

Participants reported experiencing positive changes in mood caused by the calming effect of the spaces and activities, being immersed in the creative media and participating in stimulating group discussions.

We worked in partnership with the mental health charity Mind to recruit participants from local groups for the pilot workshops. We also consulted Mind on possible formats and session content prior to delivery.

Our aim was to create a safe environment for the participants that would help reduce their anxiety and improve the likelihood of positive engagement with the palaces, their stories and other participants.

By scheduling sessions during the afternoon or at midday for small numbers of people (eight to 12 participants) accompanied by support workers, and providing clear pre-session information, participants arrived more at ease and more readily willing to engage with the session content.

We also delivered awareness workshops to our staff and volunteers to promote understanding of mental health issues and to foster a welcoming environment for this audience.

Sensory Palaces was funded internally.

Jana Haragalova and Kim Klug are learning producers in Historic Royal Palace’s learning and engagement team

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