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In April 2024, Stephanie Tierney and Beth McDougall ran a public engagement event at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. A summary of the session they provided is described in this blog.


The Marmalade Festival is an annual event in Oxford that seeks to bring people together to discuss ideas and new ways of approaching local, national and global problems. It is a collaboration between organisations in the city that is organised by the Old Fire Station. As part of the festival’s programme, Stephanie Tierney (from the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine) and Beth McDougall (from Oxford Gardens, Libraries and Museums - GLAM) organised and ran a session on social prescribing and the contribution made to it by the cultural sector, especially museums in Oxford. In total, 19 people attended the session.

Short presentation on social prescribing

After initial welcomes and housekeeping, Stephanie gave an overview of what social prescribing entails; she described how it has been incorporated into NHS provision to mitigate the wider determinants of health, including problems caused by social factors such as loneliness and financial struggles. In her presentation, Stephanie described a study she led that was funded by UK Research and Innovation; it looked at developing cultural activities or events that could form part of a social prescription for older people. She also gave an overview of a current study she is leading that is focused on understanding how to tailor cultural offers so they are accessible and acceptable to older people from global majority/ethnic minority groups. This ongoing study is called TOUS (Tailoring cultural Offers with and for diverse older Users of Social prescribing). 


As the session took place on a Friday afternoon, it was structured to enable people to try activities in the museum that aimed to support their well-being; an opportunity to wind-down in advance of the weekend. The following activities were on offer, which allowed for creativity, connection and cultural stimulation: 

  • Cyanotype Printing – The group was supported (by Miranda Millward and Laura De Moxo) to create their own prints made by using botanical material and exposing specially prepared paper to light. This replicated a supported group activity that members of GLAM carry out to connect people to different museum collections.
  • The Wander and Wonder Guide – Beth developed a trail to prompt adults’ playfulness and curiosity. Based on the Five Ways to Wellbeing and thinking routines, it supports people to build confidence in accessing collections in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History without requiring museum knowledge. This could be used by a social prescribing link worker or volunteer to encourage someone to engage with the museum and the many items it contains. 
  • Discover and Create – This activity replicated a young people’s group activity, which is supported by museum staff and by social prescribing link workers. It uses low pressure, simple activities that enable people to access the museum in a way they want to. This included sketching objects, puzzles, jigsaws and colouring in.

Throughout the session, time was set aside for people to chat over coffee and cake, and to talk to Stephanie, Beth and other staff from Oxford GLAM involved in delivering activities that could form part of a social prescription. 

Closing reflections

Towards the end of the session, Beth invited people to share what they had experienced and to offer any feedback. It was noted by those attending that they appreciated not being pressured to engage in particular activities, not feeling overwhelmed from having too many options in terms of activities, and having the opportunity to talk to others in a convivial atmosphere. Several people who attended expressed an interest in offering their time to support cultural offers that might form a social prescription. They were encouraged to contact Beth with ideas they might have in this respect. They were also invited to contact Stephanie about public involvement opportunities around research on social prescribing. Feedback from people attending was positive, as the following comments from them suggest. 

comments for blog.jpgStephanie Tierney is leading the TOUS study mentioned in this blog. Beth McDougall is one of the co-applicants on this research. The TOUS study is funded by a grant from UK Research and Innovation (MR/Y010000/1). The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the funder or the authors’ host institution.