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Touching Heritage


A volunteer driven, heritage-in-health initiative


Healthy Museums

By Nicholas Vogelpoel, on 26 November 2012

 Blog entry by Touching Heritage volunteer – Marianne Phillips

It was the title that drew me to the ‘Touching Heritage’ volunteering project. As I looked into it, I found out that the idea was to take interesting artefacts, from UCL’s museums and public engagement collections, to patients in hospitals as well as to people in day care centres in the community. In these places we are able to show participants a range of interesting artefacts – from a 3,500 year old Egyptian Vase to an Elephant’s Molar or even a Puma Skull! We are then able to explain a little about the history of these, as well as what they might have been used for (some rocks and amulets we have were believed to have healing powers, for example).

Up close and personal with a two-finger Egyptian amulet

I enjoy volunteering and, being a Medic, I am passionate about Health too, so this scheme naturally caught my eye – little did I know how much I would truly love doing it each week though. The two hours I spend talking with the object-handlers (and learning, myself) about the artefacts goes by faster than I would ever have imagined!

The idea may sound a little ‘random’ and many ask what good this project could do, but the positive comments I have received so far have been amazing. Some of the feedback from participants include:

“I’ve never touched or seen anything like this!”
“It has been a nice break to my afternoon”.
“I never get to go to museums, so this was very nice for me”.

People enjoy having a distraction whilst in day centres or as inpatients and the idea of bringing the museum to them really does seem to work. It allows them to speak about new things and some of the objects bring back memories, as well as get their imaginations going. For example, when given a ‘thumb’ from a 3,000 year old Greek statue, many people think it is a boot, before turning it over in their hands and seeing the carved nail and lines of the thumb. One gentleman even suggested it was a pipe to begin with! Another interesting comment I received was from a lady who thought that one of the blue rocks, called Amazonite, was a bar of soap (even once she was holding it)!

Painted pottery

One of the most memorable conversations I had was with a lady who had actually done an Archaeology Degree. The objects got her talking about what she had been able to excavate and find whilst on a trip near Stonehenge, with her University. Her discoveries ranged from the remains of a sacrificed deer to an ancient child’s toy!

This project has met my expectations and, in fact, far exceeded them. It is a means of putting a great use to usually hidden national gems – making artefacts more accessible and meaningful. It is also very interesting for the volunteers, like me, who facilitate these sessions. Most importantly though, it benefits the participants – providing them with a “break” from any worries they may have, as well as allowing them to find out and experience new things.


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