Research Impact


Demonstrating the health and wellbeing benefits of arts and culture

UCL’s Professor Helen Chatterjee has built an evidence base to support the benefit of culture, nature and community-based approaches to health and wellbeing, influencing museums and government policy.

People sitting on green grass

12 April 2022

Social prescribing involves GPs or other health professionals referring patients to a wide range of non-clinical activities and services. It is one of six key components of the Comprehensive Model for Personalised Care, which the NHS is committed to delivering as part of the current Long Term Plan. By 2024, 2.5 million people in England will have access to social prescribing as part of their Personalised Care plan.  

Both clinicians and arts and heritage organisations need evidence of the most effective ways to support health and wellbeing via social prescribing. However, until recently the only evidence available were either very small studies or anecdotal sources. 

Systematically assessing the benefits of social prescribing 

Professor Helen Chatterjee works across the UCL Division of Biosciences and UCL Arts & Sciences programme, investigating the links between arts and culture organisations and the wellbeing of the communities who visit and use them. 

Professor Chatterjee’s research is the first in the UK to systematically assess the benefits of social prescribing in museums across a large group of people. The UCL team recruited seven partner museums across London and Kent to run 12-week and 10-week programmes of museum-based sessions for small groups of older adults and their carers. Health and social care practitioners and third sector organisations, for example, Age UK, referred participants to museum programmes. Activities included talks, gallery visits, behind-the-scenes tours and collections-inspired creative activities. 

Significantly improved emotional wellbeing 

The research team carried out quantitative evaluation of wellbeing and social inclusion before, during and after the programme using a specially developed Museum Wellbeing Measure. This was also used to analyse participant diaries and in-depth interviews.  

The participants were shown to have significantly improved across a range of emotional measures throughout the programme. This was also true of two targeted programmes, one involving stroke survivors in Manchester and Tyne and Wear, the other focusing on refugees in the UK and Jordan. 

Influencing museum best practice and government policy 

A best practice resource, ‘Museums on Prescription: A guide to working with older people’, was co-produced by the whole project team, including several older adult participants. Lessons learned from the development of novel MoP schemes are now changing and influencing other museums’ practices through the creation of this resource. Professor Chatterjee has given presentations on MoP at over 20 events worldwide, and the resource has won two Royal Society for Public Health awards in 2017 and the Best Educational Initiative at the 2018 National Museums and Heritage Awards. 

In 2018 Professor Chatterjee helped to set up the Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance, which has over 5,000 members and provides evidence to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Arts, Health and Wellbeing, on which Chatterjee advises. 

Research synopsis

Building the evidence base for culture, nature and community-based approaches to health 

Professor Helen Chatterjee’s research investigates links between arts and culture organisations and the wellbeing of the communities who visit and use them. It has directly improved the emotional and mental wellbeing of those participating in her research, from refugees to those with dementia and mental health issues. Through improving the evidence base, the research has informed the outreach and practice of cultural institutions. Professor Chatterjee’s research has raised awareness of the links between culture and wellbeing among policymakers through the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Arts, Health and Wellbeing.