AN INNOVATIVE project to tackle mental health and isolation in York has won national recognition.

Archaeology on Prescription won the community engagement award at the Museums and Heritage Awards 2022 where it was praised for ‘actively changing lives’.

The project pairs people with mental health or substance dependency issues with expert archaeologists to learn new skills, make friends and explore the history of their local area.

It is run by York Archaeological Trust’s attractions and archaeology teams, with city-based partners.

An initial pilot project was run last summer at Willow House, next to Walmgate Bar and the city walls, with partners including Converge and Changing Lives. The second phase of the pilot is ongoing.

Archaeology on Prescription triumphed at the awards after going head-to-head with strong community projects from across the country.

The judges were impressed by the 'simple, strong, confident concept', saying: "One which is not limited in ambition or scope. Intelligent thinking lies behind the long-term strategic approach to the design of this impressive programme. It is both impactful and scalable and is actively changing lives.”

Sarah Maltby, director of attractions for York Archaeological Trust, said: “We have an incredibly dedicated team working on this project, and it has been amazing to see such fantastic results and feedback from the participants so far.

“We’re incredibly grateful to City of York Council for granting us permission to use this site, so close to the city walls.

"This kind of community engagement project is not suited to every archaeological dig, and having this site so close to the city walls has meant that the dig has been meaningful and helpful in helping us understand the area’s history and past uses.

"It has also opened the door for discussions with other groups around the city and beyond about how we can scale the project up in the future, including working directly with the Vale of York Clinical Commissioning Group.”

The project also created a buzz amongst the archaeological community at the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists conference, where it was praised by representatives of Historic England.

York Archaeological Trust’s plans for a two-year long excavation of a 30-metre by 30 metre site on Rougier Street could provide many more opportunities within the city walls at a site of historical significance.

If planning permission is granted for the redevelopment of the site of Northern House and neighbouring properties later this year, participants will be involved in the ambitious dig which aims to excavate eight metres down to Roman street level, ahead of the construction of a major new Roman-themed museum and visitor attraction.

Sarah added: “Over 40 years on, those involved in excavating Viking Coppergate are still proud of being involved in such a landmark project and everything that resulted from that dig – including JORVIK Viking Centre.

"The opportunity to be involved at ground level in a project of this scale is exactly the kind of thing that will have significant positive impact on the mental health and wellbeing of those people included in the project – and with excavations continuing year-round for two full years, the number of people this could involve is significant.

"We also know that participants will have the best possible outcomes with sustained activity rather than short-term interventions, and this could secure Archaeology on Prescription in York for the next three years.”