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Conservation for Wellbeing

Meaningful participation and volunteering promote wellbeing and self-confidence. A pilot project from Museums & Galleries Edinburgh aimed to do just that by welcoming community groups into their Collections Centre between May and August 2023.

A group of adults are standing in a museum collections store. The person in the centre of the group is holding a mug and reading the engraving on the bottom of the mug out to the rest of the group.

The project

Conservation for Wellbeing was a pilot project from Museums & Galleries Edinburgh aimed at improving the mental wellbeing of its participants through an introduction to Museums & Galleries Edinburgh’s Collection Centre. Conservation and Outreach staff worked with three partner groups to show participants the various procedures used in conserving a collection, specifically the re-packing and storing of objects. Assessment methods to gauge participants wellbeing involved observing their body language and engagement as well as informal discussions.

The partner groups were selected based on their work supporting people with lived experience of poor mental health. The partner groups involved were Edinburgh Recovery Activities, a group working with and supporting individuals recovering from addiction to alcohol and illicit substances, Outlook, a City of Edinburgh Council-run service that provides learning opportunities for people who currently or have recently accessed mental health services through the NHS, and Invisible Cities, a Charity that supports people with lived experience of homelessness and trains them to be tour guides in their home cities.

The aims of the project:

  • To provide a safe and welcoming space for the community groups to use while exploring conservation methods
  • To reduce feelings of stress and anxiety in participants through the physical conservation of objects
  • To provide participants with a sense of pride by contributing to the ongoing care and preservation of Museums & Galleries Edinburgh’s collections
  • To create a space for shared dialogue
  • To provide participants with an opportunity to learn about the collections and gain an insight into their own local heritage

By creating a space which encouraged discussion and learning, a safe and informative atmosphere was established.

Ellie Hodnett, student placement with Museums & Galleries Edinburgh

Watch the video

Digital Manager for Museums Galleries Scotland, Kelly Forbes and Digital Marketing Assistant, Robyn Evans visited the Collections Centre to hear more about the project. In this video, we hear from Collections Care Officer, Gwen Thomas and Outreach and Access Manager, Ria Sloan who talk to us about the successes, challenges, and learnings from the pilot project.


As the project was only a few months long, the lasting impact on mental wellbeing could not be determined. However, there was demonstrable evidence of the immediate impact on participants wellbeing including:

  • Participants built a rapport with each other and museum staff
  • Participants felt empowered to engage with the collections and did so in meaningful ways
  • Participants were able to vocalise their excitements, concerns and questions within a safe and informative space
  • Objects and areas within the collection sparked memories and nostalgia, leading individuals to share and explore personal insights, histories, and perspectives
  • On two occasions participants offered to donate items into the collection, based on their gained understanding of gaps in the collection
  • Participants continually demonstrated learning and development which had demonstrable effects on their wellbeing
  • Participant engagement grew throughout the course of the project and they often requested to participate for longer or more regularly
  • Participants received a break from their usual life and complex personal contexts

There was also an impact on the museum service and learnings that could be taken away from the pilot project:

  • Improved physical storage of collection items
  • The project demonstrated the ability for Museums & Galleries Edinburgh to effectively engage with groups outside of their public venues
  • The collections were well used and created a space for establishing new relationships as well as supporting learning and development
  • The project successfully established a new social network
  • The project also demonstrated the organisation’s ability to flexibly adjust to the needs of its participants. Comfort breaks were introduced in later sessions, sessions were discussed and explored before hand and material content was continually revised in order to meet the interests of participants

Next steps

Taking on board the learnings from the Conservation for Wellbeing project, Museums & Galleries Edinburgh are looking to broaden the workshop structure and embed this model of community engagement into their annual programme.

If you would like to find out more about the project please contact Outreach and Access Manager at Museums & Galleries Edinburgh, Ria Sloan at

Download the video transcript
Conservation for wellbeing video transcript
(DOCX, 37 KB)

Further reading