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Wellbeing and the Countryside

Posted: Friday, October 06, 2017


The Museum of English Rural Life (The MERL) at the University of Reading launches its new exhibition, ‘Wellbeing and the Countryside’, on World Mental Health Day on Tuesday 10 October 2017.

The Museum of English Rural Life (The MERL) has been exploring the complex relationships between wellbeing and the countryside with the help of rural stakeholders and local community groups. From the therapeutic benefits of getting back to nature and working the land, to the isolation experienced in remote locations and the uncertainty of the farming year, life in the countryside presents both challenges and opportunities for rural people. The MERL’s collections and contemporary accounts of rural life provide some fascinating insights into various aspects of rural wellbeing and we are pleased to share these with the wider community through displays at the Museum and online.
‘Wellbeing and the Countryside’ is a new exhibition opening in the Community Case at The MERL, Redlands Road, on World Mental Health Day on Tuesday 10 October 2017. The MERL has been working with various community groups including Ridgeline Trust, the Farming Community Network and the Rural Services Network, who have selected objects and images for the exhibition.

To celebrate the opening of the exhibition, teas and coffees will be available in the Museum’s Nook at 11am on 10 October. To register a place please contact Phillippa Heath, p.heath2@reading.ac.uk / 0118 378 6451.
The exhibition is free, and will run until Tuesday 31 October 2017. It will be followed by an online exhibition later in the year.

The exhibition is part of The MERL’s Wellcome Trust funded science engagement project, Our Country Lives: Nutrition, Health and Rural England, which aims to examine the past, present and future science of rural life, and reveal compelling stories of nutrition, health and medicine.

Graham Johnson, Chair of Ridgeline Trust, which runs a therapeutic garden in East Reading to help people with experience of a variety of mental and physical difficulties and other special needs benefit from gardening, said: “Our gardeners say they can gain better physical health through exercise, along with the mental health benefits of a sense of purpose and achievement that gardening brings. Gardening as part of a team can reduce the feelings of exclusion and isolation that people with disabilities sometimes experience. And when it rains that’s a good excuse to go indoors for a cup of tea and a chat.  We firmly believe that gardening is good for you!”

Phillippa Heath, Audience Development Manager at The MERL said: "A significant motivation for our recent redevelopment project at The MERL has been to more effectively represent life in the countryside today, as well as in the past, through our displays. This project has been a great opportunity for us to learn about the reality of life in the countryside – the challenges and the joys – from those who experience it first-hand. We have been honoured to have involved communities from both rural areas across England and urban Reading in this project to powerfully communicate the complexity of this subject."

Gillian, a volunteer at The MERL who came up with the idea for the wellbeing project, said: “There is a great deal of research and anecdotal evidence about the positive impact of the countryside and rural activities on people’s wellbeing. However, it’s only recently that the negative impact of rural life on wellbeing has been highlighted. This exhibition explores these links in relation to objects in the MERL’s collections, with the aim of bringing this subject to a wider audience.”


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