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Touching Heritage


A volunteer driven, heritage-in-health initiative


Touching Heritage inspires a short documentary

By Betsy Lewis-Holmes, on 18 June 2013


Blog entry by Sasha Andrews.

Medical illustrator and film-maker, Sasha was inspired to create a short film about Touching Heritage, which you can see here.



Hospitals are stressful places, and though the clinical interventions possible are astonishing, the boredom and pain patients may experience can be debilitating.

I work part-time as a medical photographer and in my own time make short documentaries. In January I enrolled on a film-making module with UCL’s Anthropology department with the intention of finding a story about the effect of art in hospitals.

I shadowed UCLH Arts Curator Guy Noble for a morning, picking his brains about existing and upcoming projects as walked through spaces, looking for ways of animating them, put up photographs and prints and planned other positive interventions. When I heard that museum objects were being brought into the sterile hospital environment and given to patients to handle I got very excited – what an original idea with loads of filmic potential – unusual objects, human interaction, potential for emotion and visually rich.

I remember queuing as a child outside the British Museum for the Tutankhamen exhibition and then inside, pressing nose to glass.  Later I spent two years working on archaeological digs excavating and recording all manner of things from medieval drains to Roman cremation urns.  Handling objects gives a bats-squeak connection to the past never forgotten.  Touching Heritage would have to be the subject for my film.

Thanks to numerous UCLH and UCL staff I was introduction to volunteer co-ordinator Betsy Lewis-Holmes who gave me detailed information about the project and kindly agreed to filming provided the volunteers and patients were willing.

With a tight time-scale there was no time for practice run-throughs, I joined Betsy and student volunteer Chloe as they selected the objects for a visit to a surgical ward.  Once on site, Nursing staff highlighted the patients most able and likely to benefit from the experience.  Several were interested in handling the objects but unwilling to be filmed – “I’ve got no make-up on”, “I don’t want to be on telly” (I wish!), etc.  However this did give me the chance to see how the sessions worked on two patients with very different though equally positive responses. Then a nurse took us to Carol, a lady who’d had an operation the day before and was hoping to go home in a day or so.  Thankfully she was not only interested in seeing the objects but also totally un-phased at the idea of being filmed.  Consent form completed I got out the way and filmed as Chloe set to work.  A marvellous facilitator, Chloe gently encouraged Carol to explore the objects and tell us what she thought of them.  And what objects – geological rocks & fossils, an Egyptian pot and an amulet.  As the session progressed the mood and pace varied with curiosity, surprise, awe and triumph.  The predominant mood however was pleasure – both for patient and volunteer. It was a privilege to be there.

The short documentary Touching Objects is being screened at the Lab Film Festival, London 2013 and London Short Film Festival in 2014.