When I picked up a battered copy of The Waste Land in a charity shop overlooking the sea in Margate for 50p six years ago, I never knew it would take me on a journey from healthcare to museums. Parts of this poem were written in the seaside town, where TS Eliot was convalescing following a deterioration in his mental health. One of the central themes is fragmentation, of Eliot’s own psychological state and of the wider world at the time, as society recovered from the impact of the first world war.
That Eliot went to Margate to work on a poem led me to investigate the town’s heritage as a place of asylum and recovery, where the sea air provided respite for those needing to escape the mental and physical burdens of city life. This aspect of Margate’s history was something I wanted to draw on in my work as a health professional in inpatient psychiatry. After developing a project with my patients and a local gallery, I had developed a taste for using heritage for wellbeing, which naturally drew me to museums.
Museums are not just spaces where heritage is valued, they are places that people use to improve their health. They are community spaces where people can connect fragments of history, literature and the arts, for their own dose of respite. Not just as a place to convalesce away from daily life, but to connect with the past, with other people and with themselves.
Jemma Channing is the health and wellbeing coordinator at Canterbury Museums & Galleries, Kent