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Older couple wearing masks and holding hands around table © Shutterstock

In recent years, the cultural sector (i.e. gardens and open spaces, galleries, museums, heritage sites, theatres, and libraries) has supported public wellbeing (e.g. by providing a space for relaxation and distraction, volunteering opportunities, or putting on activities for specific populations). Such provision can be considered as part of the ‘community assets’ (e.g. groups, organisations, charities, activities) that are central to social prescribing.

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting what the cultural sector can offer, at a time when significant mental and/or social consequences of the crisis are anticipated (e.g. fear, low mood, money worries), especially among older people. From the outset, this population was identified as ‘at risk’ from the condition itself and responses to it (e.g. extreme loneliness). 

Our research will explore how the cultural sector adapts to support older people’s wellbeing. This will allow us to provide recommendations to the cultural sector about being 'referral-ready' (O’Neill, 2010) for social prescribing with older people in the context of the current pandemic and future ones. We will use a realist approach to explore what works, for whom, why and in what circumstances. This will involve developing a programme theory on how the cultural sector might be best mobilised and engaged to support older people's resilience during and after the pandemic.

For details on the objectives associated with this project, click here.

For further information on how we will conduct the research, click here.

For the rapid realist review protocol, click here.


This research is funded by UKRI/AHRC (AH/V008781/1).

 UKRI logo - Arts & Humanities Research Council

Meet the team:

  • Kamal R. Mahtani
    Kamal R. Mahtani

    GP & Associate Professor

  • Stephanie Tierney
    Stephanie Tierney

    Departmental Lecturer and Senior Researcher

  • Geoff Wong
    Geoff Wong

    Associate Professor of Primary Care

  • Amadea Turk
    Amadea Turk


  • Lucy Shaw
    Lucy Shaw

    Head of Partnerships & Programmes, and Programme Director for Oxford Cultural Leaders, GLAM

  • Emma Webster
    Emma Webster

    Research and Impact Support Officer, Gardens, Libraries & Museums

  • Helen Chatterjee
    Helen Chatterjee

    Professor of Biology, Genetics, Evolution & Environment Div of Biosciences, University College London

  • Kerryn Husk
    Kerryn Husk

    PenARC Senior Research Fellow Peninsula Medical School (Faculty of Health), University of Plymouth

  • Kathryn Eccles
    Kathryn Eccles

    Research Fellow, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

  • Caroline Potter
    Caroline Potter

    Senior Research Fellow, Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford

  • Harriet Warburton
    Harriet Warburton

    Research and Impact Manager, Gardens, Libraries & Museums, University of Oxford

  • Beth McDougall
    Beth McDougall

    Community Engagement Officer: Older People, Gardens, Libraries & Museums, University of Oxford

Blogs related to this project:

Developing programme theory around culture-based social prescribing for older people

Emma Webster discusses recent online meetings, held with stakeholders to discuss the progress of an AHRC-funded project looking at the role of the cultural sector in social prescribing for older people in the time of COVID-19.

Unpacking culture and the well-being of older people during the COVID-19 pandemic

Members of the Oxford Social Prescribing Research Network are developing and refining a programme theory that centres on the use of culture to support the well-being of older people during the pandemic.