Heritage and charity sector stakeholders gathered at West Horsley Place on 30 January 2024 for the third and final conference in our series, 21st Century Heritage.

Speakers explored evidence supporting the potential for heritage sites to improve people’s wellbeing and the importance of acknowledging the barriers which prevent people from accessing these barriers and removing them as far as is possible.

We heard inspiring stories from Turner House of their Wellbeing Programme run in partnership with MIND, Age UK and Refugees Welcome in Richmond and shared about our own outdoor wellbeing courses, Breathing Space.

The evidence to support the wellbeing potential of heritage sites was overwhelming with fantastic case studies from a variety of heritage sites. We were also reminded that this is not a new discovery and that this knowledge is embedded in the foundation of many of the heritage charities present including National Trust’s foundations.

‘We all want quiet.
We all want beauty...
We all need space. Unless we have it, we cannot reach that sense of quiet in which whispers of better things come to us gently.’

Octavia Hill (1883),
Co-founder of the National Trust

Heritage sector visitors, volunteers and staff spoke of differing activities and experiences at heritage sites which had a positive impact on wellbeing, highlighting that wellbeing is affected by a wide range of intersecting factors which will be different for each individual.

Melissa Speed spoke of her lived experience as a disabled artist and heritage enthusiast. She shared the barriers she faces when visiting heritage sites as a visitor and a volunteer and how it impacts her wellbeing. She reminded us of the value disabled volunteers bring to heritage sites and the importance increase representation, ensuring no part of history is forgotten.

Partnership was a key theme throughout the day, Desi Gradinova, Policy Advisor for Historic England highlighted the challenges heritage sites face in understanding the wide range of access barriers that may be present in their sites, proposing partnership working as a solution. Working with excellent local partners who have an existing audience and understand their needs can enable sites like West Horsley Place to support a much broader audience.

Away from the stage sector colleagues made useful connections, discussing further the joys of challenges working in partnership and tips of effective evaluation techniques.

This event was part of a conference series funded by National Lottery Heritage Fund. Thank you National Lottery players and the Heritage Fund for making this transformative project possible.