What can archives contribute to Governmental Health and Wellbeing?
A Policy Internship at The National Archives that explored how the archive sector can contribute to efforts to combat ongoing crises in health and wellbeing.
The National Archives (TNA) is a non-ministerial government department and the official archive and publisher for the UK Government, England and Wales. It is the Government expert in the management, preservation, use and re-use of information, both digital and paper; and the lead body for the archive sector in England.
Even before COVID-19, the UK was undergoing a ‘loneliness epidemic.’ Increased isolation caused by public health measures exacerbated the situation. The health and wellbeing benefits of museums, libraries and other cultural and heritage institutions are widely acknowledged but the potential contribution of the archive sector specifically has yet to be fully explored.
- Martin Thompson, PhD candidate in English, Department of English, American Studies and Creative Writing, School of Arts, Languages and Cultures.
- In collaboration with Owen Munday, Strategic Partnerships Manager, Regional and Networks Team, Archives Sector Development, The National Archives.
A policy briefing was produced in response to a critical review of existing research, policy and practice. This foregrounded the COVID-19 pandemic and offered recommendations for future research and best practice within the sector.
Consultation with sector professionals revealed concerns about their ability to ‘speak the language of wellbeing’ when conducting both internal and external wellbeing advocacy. Recommendations therefore included a ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’ (a set of government-endorsed public health recommendations produced by the New Economics Foundation) adapted to the archives sector specifically, the development of a metric linked directly to this model and the establishment of a more academically rigorous quantitative evidence base supporting the link between archives and wellbeing.
A manifesto for the relevance of the ‘Five Ways’ to the archives sector was produced, alongside prompts for individual services to consider the application of the ‘Five Ways’ in practice. A document tracking the rationale of the adaptation was circulated to stakeholders, and a condensed version was presented to the Head of Archives Development Services.
Results and impact
The project helped to inaugurate a Wellbeing in the Archives ‘Community of interest’ to facilitate the sector-wide celebration of existing (widespread, varied and diverse) wellbeing work, to increase general awareness about the role of archives in contributing to wellbeing and to co-author a sector-wide approach.
The review itself as well as the adapted ‘Five Ways’ generated by the project will act as tools for internal and external advocacy in attempts to gain support, acquire funding and forge collaborations on wellbeing initiatives in line with government policy. They correspond to NHS and other government resources on ‘patient-centred’ approaches and can be applied to everyday ‘business as usual’ as well as more targeted project work.
Working with expert archivists across sectors helped Anthony to expand his own conception of what ‘outreach,’ ‘social engagement’ and ‘impact’ might look like for his own work within academia. He has started to appreciate how the archival basis of his PhD project and his previous study might help not only enhance my students’ learning but also their wellbeing as well as the wellbeing of various groups who identify with, or feel ownership over the material that Martin studied.
The placement provided unique insight into the operations of both the Civil Service and the archives sector in its various corporate, public and private contexts. It was a fantastic opportunity to interact with experts in all of these areas and to contribute to enthusiastic and inspiring conversations about how, alongside science as technology, humanities can have a broad and profound impact, contributing to positive change and social reform. It helped me return to my PhD studies reinvigorated with a sense of the relevance and benefits of studying the records we keep, the stories we tell and our continued engagement with them.
Martin Thompson / The University of Manchester
Having Martin join us for the policy internship has been extremely valuable, helping us both tie together and take forward several different strands of our work looking at health and wellbeing. We benefitted from his fresh perspective, enthusiasm and ability to research the problem both broadly and in depth.
Owen Munday / The National Archives