Social Prescribing: can you improve the health of your community?

Museums have long been more than simply the keepers of our cultural heritage. They are often an integral part of their local communities. They can be safe spaces for discussion, and through their colourful and varied collections they stimulate creativity, spark imaginations and encourage the desire to learn.

However, have you ever considered that museums also have a role to play in health and wellbeing? The Scottish Community Alliance is currently doing some research aimed at raising awareness of the idea of ‘social prescribing’, and to scope out the potential of establishing a Social Prescribing Network across Northern Ireland and Scotland.

What is social prescribing?

Social prescribing is a way for GPs or other health professionals to refer patients to a variety of local, non-clinical services which are typically provided by charities and social enterprises. In short, this is  a ‘more than medicine’ approach, aiming to improve health by tackling both social and physical wellbeing. From dance classes to fishing groups and cookery classes to spin sessions, the services ‘socially prescribed’ ensure patients don’t feel isolated, become more motivated and can share experiences and enjoy support. This holistic approach has been used in a wide range of cases, from long-term health conditions to recovering from surgery.

Prescription for 100m3 of your local museum to be taken once per week for 60 minutes

Social prescribing empowers patients to take greater control of their own health. It also builds connections between traditional models of healthcare delivery and alternative social solutions that may be more specifically tailored to the wishes of the individual.

In recent years, the interest in health and wellbeing within the museum sector has increased. Many venues are now using innovative approaches to deliver projects that contribute to the wider public health agenda.  These have included using volunteers in front-of-house roles, as tour guides, and even as storytellers to promote inter-generational learning.

What does it mean for museums?

If you have done projects with any groups with specific health or wellbeing needs, or partnered in the past with any primary healthcare organisations, the chances are you have already been a part of a ‘social prescription’.

Looking forward, involvement in social prescribing could offer opportunities to work with new partners such as primary health care organisations. It would also help to illustrate your museum’s importance and impact on your community.

Get involved – and let us know!

MGS is keen for museums to take part in the consultation. Given the range of services, projects and programmes that museums are already involved in, it’s a great opportunity to highlight our sector’s contribution to health and wellbeing.  MGS will be submitting its own response to the consultation, as part of a sector-wide submission. We would also be pleased to receive a copy of any contributions sent to the survey.

A link to the consultation is available here. The deadline for responses is 18 August. If you are happy to share your response with MGS, please email

Further reading

  • Volunteering for Wellbeing’s report ‘More than Heritage’ provides some great case studies of museums who are already involved in social prescribing and wellbeing activity in north west England.
  • Museums on Prescription’ is a three-year research project looking at the value and contribution of heritage encounters in social prescribing. The final report is not yet available, but there are some presentations and other resources here.
  • Glasgow Life’s Open Museum has completed several projects that fit into the social prescribing model. Find out about them here.

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