Bournemouth University (BU) staff and students have been supporting a project at Stonehenge which examines whether creative exploration of historic landscapes can help people with mental health conditions.
Human Henge is a collaborative project run by the Restoration Trust in partnership with BU, Richmond Fellowship, the National Trust, and English Heritage.
The project draws on ideas that Stonehenge was once a place of healing, and has given 32 local people living with mental health conditions the opportunity to explore the ancient site and undertake creative therapeutic activities.
The group is accompanied by curators and artists, BU archaeologist Professor Tim Darvill, and musician, creative facilitator and Senior Teaching Fellow at BU Yvette Staelens, as they explore the monuments, features and layers of meaning in the Stonehenge landscape.
Professor Darvill said: “Human Henge has really opened up new ways of looking at the Stonehenge Landscape and thinking about the way people might have used it and experienced it in the past. By spending time at a selection of the sites around Stonehenge it becomes possible to think about the landscape, the skyscape, and the monuments themselves.
“We can look at how their form structured the way people approached them and moved around them. Materials such as stone and clay come to life in your hands as you think about their uses and meanings, while sounds help the imagination travel back in time to the world of the early farmers.”
Each series of journeys end with a ceremony inside the Stone Circle, collaborating with musician Chartwell Dutiro at Winter Solstice or Spring Equinox. The final activity is devised by the participants in response to their individual and shared experiences on their journey.
Second year BU Occupational Therapy student Jessie Swinburne has volunteered with the project.
“I got involved with the launch, and then each week I was part of the project, helping with the walks and making participants feel supported and comfortable.
“This project is important as it has the capacity to impact on how individuals with mental health issues manage their wellbeing.
“Being part of the project gave them a weekly opportunity to engage in social situations; challenge themselves intellectually by learning about and by walking across important archaeological sites such as the world famous Stonehenge stone circle; and to learn about their ancestors’ lifestyle, using poetry and music to explore this.
“I think the project promotes connectedness and togetherness, which are important for wellbeing.”
The Human Henge project runs until June 2018 and findings will be explored and shared through activities, focus groups, exhibitions and conferences.
Martin Allfrey, Senior Curator of Collections, English Heritage said: “We are really pleased that Stonehenge is the focus for this groundbreaking project, which brings together expert researchers from Bournemouth University and local people in Wiltshire.
“We hope that not only will the project add to the quality of life of those taking part but we also want to share the results widely, promoting a much greater understanding of the health and well-being benefits of engaging with historic places.”
Find out more about Human Henge on the project website