Young women and schoolgirls dressed as Victorian or Edwardian mill girls pose together for a photograph in a pedestrian precinct.
Dancers from About Time Dance Company and schoolgirls from Carr Hill school. © Jenny Reeves (About Time Dance Company)
Dancers from About Time Dance Company and schoolgirls from Carr Hill school. © Jenny Reeves (About Time Dance Company)

Kirkham: Forging a Heritage Programme as a Bridge to Wellbeing

Supporting wellbeing and cohesion in a Lancashire community through a social prescribing programme.

In Kirkham, Lancashire, the Kirkham Heritage, Health and Wellbeing programme is part of the High Street Heritage Action Zone initiative (HSHAZ), in partnership with Fylde Council and Historic England and in collaboration with the NHS, Lancashire County Council and other stakeholders.

Kirkham is an old Roman market town in the rural Fylde district, historically called Amounderness in Lancashire, with travel links between Preston and Blackpool. It has a long and rich history with the discovery of remains of a Roman fort at Carr Hill, appearing in the Domesday book as Chicheham and recognised as a hub of Lancashire’s thriving textiles industry: Kirkham, the Cotton town.

However over recent years Kirkham’s high street has not been flourishing, with numbers of visitors declining and banks and shops closing. Alongside this are population health challenges: an ageing and widening community and long-term health conditions, increasing demand, deprivation, inequalities and the compounding impact of the COVID-19 pandemic such as mental ill health, isolation and loneliness. Hence the investment in Kirkham offered an important opportunity to build a programme which bridges heritage and wellbeing and aligning with NHS drivers. The NHS Long Term Plan is driving forward social prescribing and integrated care systems (ICS).

Background

The idea for a Kirkham Heritage and Well-being scheme was conceived by Andrew Chatterjee (Regeneration Programme Manager) in 2019 as one strand of a £3 million grant application to Historic England’s High Street Heritage Action Zone initiative (HS HAZ) scheme. The main thrust of the HS HAZ is the regeneration of Kirkham focusing on enhancing the built environment/ placemaking. However, Andrew felt that local peoples’ health and well-being was as important as the bricks and mortar developments and that a holistic and people centred approach was needed
Discussions were initiated early on with Historic England’s Dr Linda Monckton on working up a scheme that would deliver some of her heritage and wellbeing policies on the ground in Kirkham.

Andrew pitched the idea to local stakeholders in the community, NHS CCG, County Council Public Health and local GPS and developed a coalition of partners for the project, who wrote letters of support for the project. A programme was devised seeking to explore and evaluate if local peoples’ health & wellbeing can be improved through engaging in a social prescribing programme of bespoke heritage-based activities.

A key objective is to get people out and about, interacting with each other in or around the high street, under an umbrella of pro-social historical, community-based activities that, it is hoped, will improve physical and mental well-being.

The COVID-19 lockdowns (announced right at the start of the HAZ Programme in April 2020) were not an ideal baseline from which to begin such a venture. Alarmingly this marked the first time in human history that healthy, rather than sick people were quarantined.

Fylde Council commissioned Helen Shearn Associates (HSA) to undertake a feasibility study and planning a programme to improve personal and community wellbeing using the architecture of social prescribing and four overarching heritage themes and activities: Sustainable textiles; Life stories and memories; Heathy living and food and Heritage skills and craft. The study showed how the programme could contribute to the NHS Long Term plan with its whole systems approach, working better together, making best use of resources, assets and supporting health priorities.

Cross referencing

To inform the programme’s approach and themes HSA cross referenced local and regional heritage case studies and frameworks including the research by Historic England (diagramme below) and the Heritage Alliance Heritage, Health and Wellbeing Report 2020 with their use of the five ways to wellbeing (NEF). The conceptual framework Community Spirit Level by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) is also referenced with its four elements to improve community wellbeing: a sense of belonging to a community; cohesiveness and inclusion; good relationships with other members of the community; and collective action for the common good, and by harnessing community assets (time, skills, knowledge, experience, connections, financial resources and material resources).

Building on a recent Historic England study (SQW, 2020) and a review of academic studies, HSA developed a social prescribing vision for Kirkham with recommendations for the three social prescribing process steps: referral, consultation with a link worker, interaction with the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector.

Evaluation by an independent research team has been commissioned to understand the impact of the programme on personal and community wellbeing through social prescribing with heritage-based community assets and activities.

Phoenix Rising pilot social prescribing project

One of the first priorities was to commission a pilot project delivered by the Phoenix Rising partnership. This was also a pragmatic approach to extend and capitalise on the learning and relationships from their similar project in Central and North Lancashire and South Cumbria for the Thriving Communities funded scheme by the National Academy of Social prescribing (also supported by Historic England). They initially provided tasters and then regular weekly sessions in combined activities involving art, nature and movement that will draw on the distinct heritage themes of Kirkham. The Restoration Trust refers to this kind of combined practice as Culture Therapy (Creatively Minded and Heritage report 2021).

We want our work like the history of the town to weave people together building a new social fabric that will reflect people’s interest in the history and identity of the place.

Sue Flowers (Phoenix Rising)

Aligning with the NHS: the social and health contexts in Kirkham

On an NHS map, Kirkham sits in the Fylde Coast integrated care partnership (ICP) Healthier Fylde Coast (within the Lancashire and South Cumbria Integrated Care System (ICS) and locally in the Wyre and Extended Rural Primary Care Network (WREN PCN) with its two GP surgeries.

The WREN PCN is very keen to support this programme and strategic planning is underway on funding and recruiting for a unique and innovative bridging role – a Local Heritage Health and Wellbeing Coach (Gradinarova, D, 2021). It is expected that association with Historic England will provide a good basis for addressing this last issue.

As cited in the 'Creatively Minded and Heritage' report:

The NHS’s Long-Term Plan places emphasis on prevention, which offers potential for heritage as treatment, and the National Academy for Social Prescribing is trying to deliver the promise of alternatives to medication. Link workers lack expertise in heritage and creativity; this needs to change through specialist appointments.

Creatively Minded and Heritage report

The WREN PCN and Recovery College at Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust (LSCFT) are very interested in using the new Hillside Heritage, Eco skills and Wellbeing Centre (appropriately located in an historic building). The connection with the Recovery College has been facilitated through Phoenix Rising. HSA referenced the recommendation for cultural organisations to align with Recovery Colleges to develop sustainable commissioning (Cultural Commissioning Programme, National Council for Voluntary Organisations NCVO 2013-17)

Expertise and experience of people

It has been essential to engage the expertise and experience of local people and communities, hence Phoenix Rising started its 1st phase of tasters with Listening to Kirkham. A consortium has been established to build connections, collaborate and synergise opportunities such as with Lancashire museum service, Kirkham Treasures and the Kirkham archives collected by Martin Ramsbottom, which were bequeathed to the care of St Michael’s, Kirkham’s Parish church and looked after by Adrian Long. Martin Ramsbottom was known as an authority on Kirkham and one of the founders of the previous Kirkham-in-Amounderness Museum. With the advice from Lancashire Archives, we plan to explore and digitise the collection, and with oral histories create heritage and wellbeing activities. Martin Ramsbottom’s original heritage trail can also be revisited and connect with the Kirkham Treasures quests and talking walls installation and Phoenix Rising’s mindful walks.

The programme development has benefitted from the knowledge and practice shared by Lancashire County Council colleagues: Heather Davis at the Museums service and Amanda Spavin and Laura Worden, Community Project Officers with their recommendations for activities and providers. The following have been commissioned: About Time Dance Company performed Cotton, a heritage dance piece on the historic Market Square and The Sewing Rooms will put on an Age of Inspiration social and wellbeing event for the most isolated older people. Both events involve students from the Carr Hill Secondary school in Kirkham. Also referencing Kirkham’s tradition of Club days we hope to develop more intergenerational and wellbeing opportunities.

Integral to taking forward the four themes will be the continued building of relationships and listening to Kirkham. The Hillside Heritage and Eco Skills centre and arts centre should provide the ideal environments and catalyst with a sustainable multi partnership programme of heritage based wellbeing activities. The evaluation of the programme will be essential to the learning and legacy.

Conclusion

The Kirkham heritage, health and wellbeing programme is an opportunity to align with whole system approaches and collaborating with local people through creative and meaningful activities to bridge personal and community wellbeing.

About the authors

Andrew Chatterjee

Programme Manager, High Street Action Zone, at Fylde Council

 Andrew has more than 20 years' experience of working in regeneration and community & economic development. He has worked up and down the country delivering major programmes and projects to improve town centres and neighbourhoods for the people that live there, working with them throughout the process. He is especially interested in health, nature & environmental, placemaking through good urban design and protecting our heritage (both built environment and cultural) from inappropriate development. He has been fascinated by History since school and studied Politics and Modern History at Manchester University, followed by a MSc in Environmental Management.

Helen Shearn

Consultant

Helen is a specialist consultant in arts, heritage, health and wellbeing, with over 25 years combined experience evaluating, producing and championing multi partnership programmes developed through her consultancy, Helen Shearn Associates with colleagues FVD Consulting, Toby Williamson and Eva Cyhlarova, her previous roles as Head of Arts Strategy and arts manager at South London & Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM) and as a registered Occupational Therapist. Helen was also a secondary school Head of Art, after graduating with a BA Honours degree in Fine Art, artist in residence and art teacher.

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