Guest Blog: Bringing the museum to you

Facilitating the integration of arts and culture into healthcare settings

Marcus Janusz and Eleri Watson are students of Occupational Therapy at Northumbria University. They have just completed a twelve-week, role-emerging placement with Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums and Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust. The placement was designed to create new activities to benefit the health and wellbeing of patients currently being treated at the Centre for Ageing and Vitality in the Newcastle. To help develop the OT students’ understanding of the role of culture and creativity in health and wellbeing and is part of TWAM’s strategic commitment to supporting health and wellbeing. They explore the experience below.


Before embarking on this occupational therapy, role-emerging placement with Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums (TWAM), we wondered ‘what exactly will this involve?’ and ‘how will we be performing occupational therapy in a museum?’. 10 weeks later and the links between arts, culture, health and wellbeing now seem obvious, and the vast potential for healthcare to work collaboratively with museums and the wider community in the future has become much clearer.

Given the 10-week timeframe we had for our placement, we decided to build on an existing project running at the museum, and strengthen its links with healthcare. The Community, Health and Wellbeing team at TWAM offer activity boxes that were made in collaboration with the Museum, Health and Social Care (MHSC) service. These boxes contain museum objects and activities centred around different themes, such as ‘Roman Times’ which explores the herbs used by the Romans for medicinal purposes, and a ‘Non-walking tour of Newcastle’ exploring local history. These activities have been designed to provide social, physical and cognitive benefits, and improve the wellbeing of participants. Traditionally, people had to visit a museum to enjoy all that it had to offer, but these boxes allow the museum to be taken to those who may not have been able or motivated to access it otherwise.

Our aim was to enhance the activity boxes, by creating a resource booklet which carers, activity co-ordinators and other healthcare professionals could use to guide them through the activities. The idea was to provide all the information a person needs to run the session themselves without the assistance of museum staff. We added in aspects of the occupational therapy process to make it appropriate for use in clinical settings, for example, adding a risk assessment, the benefits of the activity backed up evidence and theory, an initial sheet to gather information on the participants’ background and interests to inform the intervention, and also adding activity analysis and outcome measure documents in the appendix, for those who wished to measure the impact of the activity on the participants’ function and wellbeing. Another aspect we worked on was adding grading to the activities so that there were tasks to match differing levels of cognitive and physical function.

The booklets were a way to upskill healthcare workers, allowing them to autonomously deliver and translate the creativity of arts and culture into clinical results. By creating a resource for others to use, the sessions could be delivered more frequently and more people would benefit from the activity boxes. Moreover, the carers and activity co-ordinators often have greater knowledge of the service-users and their interests. They are therefore better placed to deliver the activities, making better connections, and allowing for more meaningful conversations. Hence for us, it was about skill-sharing and combining their experience and knowledge of the service-user, with our clinical knowledge of occupational therapy theory to deliver the best outcome for the participants.

Clinical settings can sometimes be seen as bland, non-creative environments. We wanted to change this, using the museum activity boxes to embed culture and creativity into clinical environments to improve health and wellbeing. We tested the activity boxes ourselves, delivering sessions to dementia patients on a hospital ward and older adult carer groups. We then adapted the boxes based on this and saw some fantastic results!

The final part of our project was to promote the use of the activity boxes in care homes, hospitals and the community. We partnered with other occupational therapy students working with the charity ‘Search’ who provide services for older adults and their carers in Newcastle. They were able to use our activity boxes and provide further feedback on how the sessions ran and whether the boxes could be altered. We also gathered feedback from the participants, which was vital considering the boxes were created for them to enjoy.

We provided a presentation giving an overview of our project to a ‘placement innovation group’ consisting of staff from various NHS Trusts, Health Education England staff and representatives from higher education institutions. The feedback from this has led to meetings to develop the collaboration between Northumbria University, TWAM, and Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust to consider how further placements could be arranged, even with other allied health professions, to further strengthen the link between healthcare, museums, arts and culture. We also provided presentations to occupational therapy students and staff at TWAM. This received similar levels of interest and enthusiasm, and further raised awareness of the collaborations between museums and healthcare. We are excited to follow the progress of these collaborations moving forward.


Final reflection

“As the weeks have gone on in this placement, I now have had many more examples of the connection between arts and culture, and health and well-being. An example that sticks in my mind is seeing a dementia patient who we were informed by the staff were struggling to get them to engage in any activity. She joined our activity box group session on Egyptian cosmetics which included making your own lip-scrub. Although this patient did not follow all of the session, one activity in it, was to colour in an Egyptian picture. The patient was immersed in this activity and chose to focus on this for the whole session. For the first time in a long time, she was showing high levels of concentration and displaying motivation and pride in something she was doing. We had found an activity that the patient had volition to engage in. The impact it had on her mood was visible immediately, which was a powerful thing to see.”  

You can watch Marcus and Eleri's presentation about this project here.


Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums has produced a Museums, health and social care resource (here), and you can see videos about their work here and here.