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Suffolk celebrates first national Museums and Wellbeing Week

Museums can lift the spirits for everyone, but to celebrate the first national Museums and Wellbeing Week (29 February- 6 March) some people managing mental health problems want to highlight how their museum experience has been so important to them.

Creative Heritage in Mind courses at Gainsborough's House, in Sudbury; Ipswich Museum; Moyse’s Hall Museum, in Bury St Edmunds; and the Museum of East Anglian Life, in Stowmarket, are designed to develop participants’ confidence, skills and connection with local heritage. The museum collections provide the inspiration for the artwork.

The courses are welcoming and inclusive of people managing mental health problems, with a focus on learning and wellbeing. Each seven-week course is led by experienced artist Juliet Lockhart, and supported by volunteers and museum staff, who are equal participants in the courses. Maggie Batchelar, Art Therapist with the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust is advising and supporting the project.

Jason wasn’t that convinced museums were ‘for him’ at the beginning …
"When I started the course I wrongly assumed museums were quite heady and highbrow, but now I feel a bit guilty for thinking this. Staff are all so friendly and down to earth as well as incredibly knowledgeable and their enthusiasm for their subject is inspiring and contagious. The combination of the artist’s depth of knowledge (and extremely friendly and embracing disposition) combined with the same qualities from the museum staff make for a winning combination.

"There is no pressure just guidance and encouragement and this helps enormously when you are prone to anxiety and easily distracted. This effect can't be over emphasised enough as when I am feeling low and overloaded with anxiety (wondering if it is all worth it) this kind of environment is the very best I have found for unwinding, eg, I can arrive at the class feeling that life is totally on top of me, but leave feeling relaxed and inspired and with a new outlook!! At times it is really the difference between feeling life has value and not…"

Diana writes
"From a personal point of view …. I have most definitely gained confidence, learned new skills and now look at museums in a totally different way and this has contributed enormously to the point where I am quite stable. I am not so naive as to think that I am 'there' but I believe that I have reached a point where I can contain any issues I may have in the future. To put it simply, the skills I have gained over the last year can be transferred to every day issues or problems one might encounter…"

Amanda writes
"The museum environment is important because it gives us a first-hand resource to learn from and be inspired by. … One of the elements of wellbeing is to keep learning. This is true for everybody, not just people struggling with their mental health; however learning has been especially important to me as it has improved my self confidence in my abilities to concentrate and learn, and this boost in self confidence has helped me with my recovery. The course really helps because I struggle to get motivated on my own, so the regular sessions are really important to me. It is so valuable to have a supportive space to be creative in, and to feel part of something."

Felicity writes
"As a volunteer and carer of two adults with mental health challenges the time I have spent at (the museum) has given me, personally, a lot more than I anticipated on many different levels….. I love the artist’s approach and the way stories behind the objects are brought alive by the museum staff ….

"During my first course I had to miss one session because of a crisis. The project stayed with me and I was able to create a piece that had great meaning reflecting that particular traumatic time. It gave me a focus that undoubtedly helped my emotional wellbeing.

"It's easy to get involved in the sessions. Three hours passes quickly. I leave feeling interested in finding more about a certain aspect and calmer. I get a lot of pleasure seeing how other participants respond so positively and become more confident as the weeks go by…"

The project, ‘Creative Heritage in Mind’ is led by the Association for Suffolk Museums working in partnership with the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, the artist and four museums, Gainsborough’s House, Ipswich Museum, Moyse’s Hall, and the Museum of East Anglian Life. The work is funded through the Heritage Lottery Fund and Suffolk County Council until September 2016. ​