Happiness and Wellbeing – GEM London event 2012

Here’s a great piece about the recent GEM London event by our own Sian Thurgood of the London Transport Museum’s Happy Museum Commission

I looked forward with anticipation to the GEM London event Happiness and Wellbeing in Museums. One, because Happiness and Wellbeing and the role of museums and heritage is a subject close to my heart. Two, I was intrigued to see the Cinema Museum I had heard so much about.  On the second point I was not disappointed. When I arrived I felt I had stepped back in time to the glamorous days of cinema as I walked the corridors lined with art deco antiques, fantastic film posters and Usher uniforms. The corridors were only a taster, the theatre showcased  vaulted ceilings, a giant Charlie Chaplin Maquette and cinema projection paraphernalia and the Cinema Museum as promised was indeed an ?incredible’ venue.  Kevin (a long-time volunteer at the Cinema Museum and one of their newly recruited Creative Community Curators) told me that the building used to be a workhouse and the most famous inmate none other than Charlie Chaplin himself.

The event had three exciting speakers on the bill Tony Butler, Director of The Museum of East Anglian Life and The Happy Museum Project, Linda Thomson from UCL’s Heritage in Hospitals Project and Martin Humphries and Abigail Tripp (wife of Kevin) from The Cinema Museum. Unfortunately Martin was ill and Abigail valiantly stepped into his shoes at the last moment.

The three speakers explored the following questions – What can museums do to improve people’s health, happiness and wellbeing? Do collections really have a role to play? Is it even something you can measure?

Tony looked at the broader debate around the role Museums can play in happiness wellbeing and discussed the progression of the Happy Museum Project. Keep up to date here http://happymuseumproject.org/

Abigail then spoke about the exciting work the Cinema Museum is doing with its’ Creative Community Curators . They are working with local people on a project that will raise awareness of the Cinema Museum in the local area and offer local people a chance to give something back. I am looking forward to see which of their many exciting ideas is realised. Abigail also talked about the Outcome Star as a way of measuring the happiness and well-being for the participants in the project (for more details on the outcome star see http://www.staronline.org.uk/).

Finally, Linda Thompson spoke about UCL’s innovative Heritage in Hospital project. They took museum objects from UCL’s collections to 250 patients in different healthcare contexts to understand the impact of handling and discussing museum objects on participants’ wellbeing and happiness. The details of the study can be found here http://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums/research/touch/heritageinhospitals.

Three important things struck me from the event

1) the importance of cross sector working ? NHS, Universities and Museums seem like a very natural partnership

2) understanding that different sectors need to be ?bilingual’ and be able to communicate across professional fields i.e. this Heritage in Hospitals used NHS medical research terms for their evaluation tools including Positive Affect Negative Affect Scale (PANAS)

3) Some people (including myself in the past) say museums have been ?doing happiness and wellbeing for years’ and to an extent they have, but now is the time to measure that work and put it into a language that can be understood across sectors and get taken seriously, because the happiness and wellbeing of people and the sustainability of the planet are surely of the utmost importance.

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