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Museums & Collections Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Touching Heritage

By Nicholas Vogelpoel, on 22 October 2012

Volunteers in the ‘Touching Heritage’ programme, funded by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant have been taking objects from across UCL’s museums and collections to people in hospitals, care homes and other community health settings for the past couple of months, and facilitating object-handling sessions with participants who would otherwise be excluded from visiting museums.

Patient in object-handling session

The programme is unique not only because of its intentions to actively engage excluded communities in cultural activity, but because it offers volunteers the opportunity to become the facilitators of heritage-in-health sessions. The benefits of object-handling and the potential for improved experiences of health and wellbeing through cultural engagement for participants have been a priority of the heritage-in-healthcare research team at UCL for a number of years. Researchers have found that the kinaesthetic and tactile properties of the objects have the potential to influence and improve experiences of health and wellbeing for participants of a session.
Now, in the ‘Touching Heritage’ programme, a new team of volunteers are learning how to facilitate object-handling sessions, engaging with diverse populations and demonstrating first-hand how much museums have to offer in the way of health and wellbeing focussed activity.
Reports from volunteers have exposed all kinds of different experiences. From tales of scuba-diving in the Mediterranean to wartime accounts of Oxford Street, each specially chosen object seems to unlock untold stories. For the volunteers, negotiating that slippery terrain between fact and interpretation is proving quite a journey. More often than not, a combination of creativity, memory and lived experience allows for a quirky description of objects that surprise even the participants themselves.
More than a game of animal, vegetable, mineral, the ‘Touching Heritage’ programme is engaging a new audience of would-be museum enthusiasts just how much museums have to offer to the community. In this changing climate of museum programming, it is now, more than ever that we need to thank our volunteers for all that they do.
We are always looking for new volunteers to give their time to the ‘Touching Heritage’ programme. Volunteers have the chance to gain first-hand experience into some of the inner workings of conservation and the UCL museums, while providing a unique and satisfying experience to communities they might never have the chance to meet. If you have an interest in volunteering, and want to learn more about the benefits of heritage-in-health work, we want to hear from you!
For more information and to register your interest, please contact our project co-ordinator Nic Vogelpoel by email: n.vogelpoel@ucl.ac.uk or phone: 02076792211 and join our team. Stay tuned for some guest blogs from our volunteers in the coming weeks, and for more information, you can read up on the findings of our research by following the link. http://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums/research/touch

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