Glasgow Heritage Health

It was an honour to give a talk at the ‘Sold Out’ (never been sold out before) event for Glasgow Heritage on Public health in the Early Twentieth Century. 

Below is some information about the event and the excellent organisers and contributors who invited me.

When we think of Glasgow’s heritage, we think of uncovering hidden histories, discovering new places around us and celebrating the unique heritage in every corner of the city. However, it’s easy to forget the positive impact our historic built environment can have on our health and wellbeing.

Thomas Annan’s evocative images in The Old Closes and Streets of Glasgow created between 1868 and 1871 as part of a commission from the City of Glasgow Improvement Trust, document the impoverished living conditions of the working classes in the 19th century.

Conditions were appalling. Frederick Engels (1820–1895), writing in 1844, said he ‘did not believe, until I visited the wynds [side alleys] of Glasgow, that so large an amount of filth, crime, misery and disease existed in one spot in any civilised country. In the lower lodging-houses ten, twelve, and sometimes twenty persons of both sexes and all ages sleep promiscuously on the floor in different degrees of nakedness. These places are, generally, as regards dirt, damp and decay, such as no person would stable his horse in.’

But while we might think we don’t need to worry about such issues today,  it isn’t just slums of the past that impact on public health.

Glasgow Centre for Population Health‘s work includes a focus on how different aspects of the urban environment shape health and health inequalities in the city. And there’s no doubt that the conditions in which people live and work, their access to facilities and services, their lifestyle and their ability to develop strong social networks are key health determinants that are influenced by the plans, policies and initiatives of urban planners and built environment professionals.

There are also opportunities to harness our unique historic environment to deliver more and better benefits for health and wellbeing. According to research carried out by English Heritage for their annual Heritage Counts report, visiting ‘heritage sites’ has a significant and positive impact on life satisfaction and visits to historic towns and historic buildings were found to have the greatest impact on wellbeing.  The report also calculates the value of these visits in financial terms and estimates the impact as being worth some £1646 per person per year,, meaning visiting heritage is better for your wellbeing and life satisfaction than similar participation in sport! Another recent study by Glasgow Life noted that cultural attendance prolongs lives!

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