Health Minister Addresses Heritage and Health Conference

The Heritage for Health Showcase Event was held on 21st June at Oxford Island

Minister for Health Mike Nesbitt has made a keynote address to a heritage and health conference and showcase event where he spoke to many people whose well being has been improved through the unique Heritage 4 Health Project.

Heritage 4 Health brings together community-based healthcare providers and heritage sites across Northern Ireland to improve community health and wellbeing. Funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund Northern Ireland, the innovative programme aims to increase access to local natural heritage and built heritage sites through social prescribing.

Social prescribing enables healthcare professionals to refer patients to a range of local, non-clinical services that suit their needs. Heritage 4 Health specifically focuses on referrals to heritage sites and nature-based activities.

The programme was jointly developed by Northern Ireland Environment Link and the Healthy Living Centre Alliance. Participants from 10 Healthy Living Centres took part in the project’s two 10-week phases. Over 150 participants across all five Health Trusts joined Heritage 4 Health groups.

The programme shows that social prescribing, natural environment, local history and heritage sites can be powerful tools for improving wellbeing. Early indicators highlight improvements in mood, social isolation and overall wellbeing. Healthcare staff have observed participants becoming more active and connected through taking part.

A wide range of activities have taken place including, tours, talks, walks, forest bathing, music and more at heritage sites such as Downhill, Armagh Robinson Library, Brownlow House, Mourne Park, Hannas Close, St Columbs Park House, Ballycastle Museum and the Barn Museum.

From cold water therapy in the Mournes to visits to the historical City of Armagh, the Heritage for Health programme tapped into the scientifically proven benefits of being active outdoors while surrounded by history.

“Heritage 4 Health is all about our belief in using Northern Ireland’s amazing natural and cultural resources to enrich lives, and this project absolutely demonstrates the potential that this has to improve people’s well-being” said Max Bryant, CEO of Northern Ireland Environment Link.

Tony Doherty, Regional Coordinator with the HLC Alliance, said “the project is an excellent example of how wellbeing and health can be improved through nurturing a love for our natural heritage. The fusing of mental health recovery and natural heritage recovery has produced very interesting results and outcomes for many participants. We hope to further build upon the success of this collaboration.”

As the project nears to an end, participants, staff and facilitators from Northern Ireland Environment Link and the Healthy Living Alliance joined Health Minister Mike Nesbitt in a celebratory event at Oxford Island on 21st June 2024.

The day included contributions from participants (Margi from Peninsular Health, Sharon from Causeway Rural Urban Network, Jim from Ligoniel Healthy Living Centre), Max Bryant CEO of NIEL, Tony Doherty Regional Coordinator of the Healthy Living Centre Alliance, Health Minister Mike Nesbitt, Kelley Hann Programme Coordinator –Heritage for Health and Stephen Lindsay from external evaluators Cavanagh Kelly.

The day highlighted how the programme utilised historical sites to improve participants’ physical activity, mental health recovery, sense of purpose and more. We heard first hand from participants about their experiences engaging with nature and heritage to boost their overall wellbeing.

For further information, contact:

Kelley Hann
Health for Heritage Coordinator
Healthy Living Alliance

Colin McKinty
Health for Heritage Coordinator
NI Environment Link