Rooted in History project


Art Branches CIC and Suffolk Archives are working together to use local history to support people’s mental wellbeing.

Woman drawing from an old mapThe Rooted in History project is looking at the rich archive material relating to Hardwick Heath in Bury St Edmunds, which today is a public park and home to West Suffolk Hospital.

Made possible by funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the project is engaging adults recovering from mental health issues, adult carers, and other interested parties. Each participating group takes part in workshops to explore historic maps, photos, and documents held by Suffolk Archives, a visit to Hardwick Heath, and creative workshops based on the themes they’ve explored.

Hardwick Heath was once parkland that surrounded the grand mansion of Hardwick House. Initially built in the early 1600s and much extended over the years, the house was demolished in 1927.

Participants engaged with the project have so far been enjoying finding out about the fascinating local history on their doorstep.

Councillor Paul West, Portfolio Holder for heritage, said:

“Sharing Suffolk Stories supports local groups to learn more about where they live and uncover unique stories about the people, places and events of our county, often hidden in the archives. We have seen some fantastic artwork created so far by participants of the Rooted in History project, supported by Art Branches and based on rich archive material held by Suffolk Archives. There is a mounting body of evidence that cultural engagement can have significant impact on people’s wellbeing, such as helping to increase people’s confidence and sense of belonging to a place, and we hope that that’s just what this project will do.

“Sharing Suffolk Stories projects across the county are supporting people to create their own responses to their findings – bringing Suffolk’s history to life in unique way, through artwork, drama, storytelling, music or digital media, for example through digital walking trails.”

The project is part of a countywide programme of activities for Suffolk Archives to run alongside the development of the building of The Hold, Suffolk’s first purpose-built archives centre.

Art Branches is a not for profit social enterprise based in Bury St Edmunds that specialises in creative responses to the environment and working with vulnerable people in society.

Commenting on the project, Director Stephanie Hartick said:

“We are confident the project will support people that would not normally have the opportunity to engage with the heritage of Hardwick in a fun, creative and interesting way. On Thursday Service Users from Wedgwood House visited the Record Office where they were able to see a beautiful map from 1663, the archive storerooms and search records relating to the heath. The project enables a valuable connection with their environment and gives Service Users a stimulating and interesting project that they can develop and continue once discharged.”

Each group will take part in four sessions:

  • The first session will explore material from the archive, including historic maps and photographs, and beautiful botanical drawings.
  • The second session will be a visit to Hardwick Heath, with copies of historic maps and photos to compare what is there now with what was there in the past
  • The third and fourth sessions will be led by a professional artist, and participants will have the opportunity to produce a creative response to the themes explored by the project

The artwork produced will then be displayed at sites in Bury St Edmunds.

This project is open to anyone who is experiencing or recovering from a mental health issue. It is free to take part, but spaces are limited. Find further details about how you can get involved in the project.

To register your interest in volunteering, please contact Stephanie on or Hannah on