History, Health and Happiness is an initiative run by Heritage Doncaster with support from Arts Council England, which looks at how history and museum objects can help people to feel good about themselves and make connections.
The outreach projects particularly focus on people experiencing loneliness, which research shows is as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day, increasing the likelihood of mortality by 26 per cent.
Victoria Ryves, project manager, said: “The pandemic has certainly brought its own challenges, not least of which is that regular face-to-face meetings, where people got out of their homes to meet new people could not take place, but this hasn’t always been a bad thing.
“Some participants who would be reticent to join a group of strangers in the real world have found their voice in online sessions - and created social bonds and friendships that have helped them through especially difficult times even outside the sessions.
“At a time when more people have faced challenges with mental health due to the unprecedented periods where socialising was impossible, this project have proved life-changing for many people, giving them confidence and belief in themselves that will continue even as the world re-opens.
“In Doncaster, we have an estimated 55,000 people who experience mental health challenges, so this is an important issue for us to tackle.”
The initiative has been shortlisted for two national awards at the Museums and Heritage Awards.
Their work reaching the most vulnerable and isolated has been recognised for making a huge difference to people's lives.During the pandemic the team sent out over 6500 monthly activity packs, held digital social clubs, love broadcasts, book clubs, art and craft clubs and 700 festive bundles were made over the Christmas period.Victoria said: “Whilst many of us have embraced the online world, with Skype and Zoom sessions to interact with friends and family, we know that those who are not digitally engaged - perhaps because they feel they are too old to learn to use new technology, or can’t afford a computer or regular internet access - are even more likely to suffer from social isolation.
“Having fun activities delivered through their front door has made an enormous difference to them, with some recipients reporting that they were receiving a gift, or a few hours of light relief during exceptionally difficult times.
“We were determined that everyone could have the chance for connection and fun in the difficult lockdown periods.”
Women involved in the Herstory group in Denaby Main described their experience of the initiative as a lifeline.
They formed friendships and supported one another through bereavement.
The initiative will run over the next three years.The public can vote for the Covid Special Recognition Award until 28 May by clicking here.
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