Heritage Lottery Fund gets people outdoors to support positive mental health

As part of the discussion around World Mental Health Day, Liz Ellis Policy Advisor Communities and Diversity at Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) shares why mental health is core to heritage and how great heritage projects can combine physical activity and mental health to benefit everyone involved.


In our recent report State of UK Public Parks 2016, Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) we uncovered that 57% of UK populations use our local parks at least once a month, with the figure rising to 90% for families and households with children under the age of five. Along with this growing use, there is also a parallel decline in resources that are available to manage them. I know personally how relaxing I find walking through my local park and I certainly feel both the positive mental and physical health benefits of doing so in a safe, local space.

The Chief Executive of Mind, Paul Farmer, shares in the report how they are working in partnership with The Conservation Volunteers, to provide opportunities to be physically active, improve green places, interact with nature and manage mental health and wellbeing – all while having a great time at your local park, canal or green space! This approach to ‘green volunteering’ is a great example of partnerships across sectors that are working to achieve healthier results for us all. The evidence around green spaces having a positive effect on both mental and physical health means a real success story for the sector to share.

At HLF, we are always keen to promote both positive mental and physical health and work collaboratively when possible so we can try and have as many positive outcomes as possible from our heritage activity, including helping people with their mental health. This includes both outside or indoors activity and below is one example of how we work collaboratively with others to do this.  

A recent innovative project funded through HLF has involved the restoration of Grade II* listed building St Stephen’s Hall, a beautiful Regency ballroom and local landmark currently used by the First Base Day Centre in partnership with the Brighton Housing Trust.

Brighton Housing Trust supports improved housing as well as working to help adults to develop their skills and self-confidence. People they work with include those who have experienced poor mental and physical health in addition to a housing crisis. This special project brought  people together to give attention to a much-loved building that needed work. It included giving the people supported by the housing trust, the opportunity to volunteer to do conservation work on the building at the same time as developing both practical skills and learning about past Brighton residents. The volunteers carried out research to collect oral histories, which included learning about the history of homelessness. These histories were then deposited in the Mass Observation Archives. 

The volunteers were also able to design and lead the heritage guided walks around the history of homelessness in Brighton. These walks were led as part of the Brighton Festival and helped contribute to the positive mental health outcomes of this project. 

These walks inspired all involved:

I got heavily involved in creating this year’s heritage trail and I’m starting to look ahead and plan for the future; something that I haven’t done for a long time.” Client and participant in the project

Our research demonstrates that being active through volunteering in heritage projects can contribute to higher levels of positive mental health and wellbeing, often through the sense of purpose this involvement brings. Which is why we will continue making the connections between mental health and heritage activity.

In December, we will have a special feature on mental health, dementia and heritage on the HLF website, but in the meantime, find out how we celebrated Mental Health Week here and get involved yourself by sharing your own experiences in our community discussions