Finding health and happiness in local history

How much do you know about the history of where you live?
By Rory Cooper

St John the Baptist, Chipping Barnet - Stained glass window. Credit: John Salmon
St John the Baptist, Chipping Barnet – Stained glass window. Credit: John Salmon

Developing a new relationship with the past can create new perspectives and meaning. 

Did you know that this year is the 550th anniversary of the Battle of Barnet? Have you been down to Hendon to the incredible RAF Museum? Can you tell your early modern architecture from your mock Tudor?  

As a bit of a history geek, I really enjoy exploring different areas and learning about old buildings. It is one of the many things I have missed in lockdown. Much of Barnet’s development came about in the late 19th Century as London expanded rapidly with more housing built on the outskirts of the city. 

Barnet has always been an important thoroughfare and people have been living and travelling in and out of Barnet for over a thousand years. It was a well-trodden route in and out of London, an important centre of aviation, the development of the Metropolitan Police force and home to the Army. There are many buildings in the local area that are hundreds of years old. 

Many of us enjoy being surrounded by history and being in places with a past. But you don’t have to be as interested in every detail of the history to gain tremendous benefit from learning about and exploring the local area. 

Sharing cultural experience with others can bring people together for therapeutic or social purposes providing a common point of interest or experience. Feeling a connection and understanding the place we live can bring with it a sense of meaning and inclusion that we might not otherwise have felt. It also helps us understand our place in the history of our community. Learning more about local history and heritage can help us reclaim a sense of place that might be missing for some of us when many of us might feel socially isolated or disconnected from an area. 

As lockdown relaxes and we can explore further afield, we don’t have to go far to find stories and places of interest that can keep us learning and active. This might mean walking and running around new parts of the borough, or delving into family and local history in person or digitally. The possibilities are wide and varied. Whether you are engaging your brain or your body there are so many benefits to exploring the past.

What could you do and what are the benefits of exploring history locally?

It might be as simple as adding some learning and adventure to your walking or running. This could be something you do by yourself or with others and there is no need to overcomplicate it. Why not commit to learning about and finding a new place or building in Barnet or London each month?

A good place to start might be with the Mayor of Barnet’s Heritage Walks

You could choose to volunteer with a historic site or project.  This act of learning and commitment to a place or project will be an enjoyable and engaging experience as well as getting to meet new people. This might involve working on or near a physical site or area such as with Barnet Museum or it might mean getting involved in an oral history project or online research. Or, you might want to join a local history society.

For more information head to the council website

Please visit the Barnet Wellbeing website for more ideas and to sign up for the fortnightly Ways to Wellbeing newsletter.

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