Willis Newson Evaluation, First Report

Jane Willis has produced a preliminary report evaluating the impact of Burgh Castle Almanac on participants’ wellbeing. Here are some excerpts from the document, which will be incorporated in a final report to be published in Autumn 2020.

In describing their experience of BCA, participants talked of feeling low at the start of the project. Several of them talked about the challenge and reward of trying something new, learning new things. History and landscape were key themes, with several people talking about the therapeutic impact of being in nature, being outdoors, walking, witnessing the changing seasons. Walking in nature seemed to provide both sanctuary and a safe place to talk and connect with others. Participants talked of both looking close-up, of being in the moment, being present; and of looking out, getting a fresh perspective on life. And across all of these themes was that of friendship: of new friendships formed that made them feel safe, cared for, supported and empowered.

The key themes that arose from the narratives were: 

Feeling Low

 “Before I started the project, I actually felt a bit like an injured lion and a bit like you know, really burdened by life” P1

“Well before I came here, I think I tended to live in my own head a lot.” P3

“When you are feeling really low you can feel that the world has become smaller and being part of this project is maybe that the world has become bigger.” P1

Worry about the world

“I get quite worried about what is going on the world about the way things are going” P2

“What’s going on out there and I should be really worried about this because there is a lot of bad shit going on.” P3

Trying new things

 “Sometimes you have to take a risk and jump off the deep end[JW2] .”

“Maybe this is helping me do things for the very first time again” P5

“you know sometimes like you have to go outside your comfort zone and you have to go fishing for other stuff.” P1

“First steps on my own” P5


“Discover more. The more you know the better things are for you, aren’t they? Learn.” P2

“When we interviewed one of the film makers … one of his favourite photographers was Anselm Adams and I had never heard of him, so I looked up his stuff and found out how amazing it was – so that’s something that has come directly out of the group.” P3


“I have gained an appreciation of history, peace of mind.” P3

“……. found a Roman Coin and I think that was one of the best things.” P4

“Obviously, there was a lot of weight of history there” P6


“The important thing for me is that it runs all year, so you get to see the seasons change, going from summer into autumn into winter and that gives me a sense of the landscape and appreciating the nature.” P3

“Being outdoors I think that is just very important for wellbeing and health and going for walks as well.” P4

“I think people talk more when they walk. I can talk better when I am walking along, I don’t know why.” P4

“The elderflower, just because I like picking elderflower. We picked it a few times. And drawing in nature.” 

“The changing seasons, as we go through the year and the wildlife which I have become so much more aware of, and the boat and the broads.” P7


“I have always found calm by water and there’s a spot on the site that I take a little 5 or 10 second clip of, and if I am struggling, I play it to myself just to hear the sounds and stuff.” P5

“I must say I have come up here when I have not being feeling… when I have not been in the Burgh Castle Group, that is like a little safe place for me, I feel calm and relaxed up here and everything just shadows off.” P5

“The sophisticated sanctuary is really tranquil and …that is basically what you can do for your mind, when you are out there and walking.” P6

Look / take notice

“But up close here, really looking at life and really being in the moment, that is something I have gained a lot from this.” P3

“Looking at things in more detail” P4


“If you took us all up individually to the site, we would all show you something individually, from a different viewpoint. And I like that. We’d all have a different view of the site. And the view from here. When you get up there, the view is just great wherever you look. That is also why ESCAPE.” P6

“I think what the group has taught me more than anything is to look outside. But in looking outside, you find an inner peace; you can find new freedoms within you as well as being in a lovely landscape which gives you freedom as well.” P3


“I have made new friends which I never thought I would.” P2

“That is a mother bear caring for her cubs. Everyone should care for each other.” P2

“Be more friendly towards people. More understanding. Not judge people all the time.” P2


“Joining a club when you can speak to anybody when we are walking round. It is not cliquey or anything like that, its lovely.” P7

Expression and sharing 

“It is good to talk to people. Don’t hide everything. Don’t bottle it in.” P2

I have really enjoyed it because I am quite an introverted person really, and it’s just nice to be able to chat to people. It’s just very therapeutic. And you can just go up and talk, and you talk about things you don’t normally talk about.” P7

The impacts were then grouped according to theme. The themes arising in order of prominence (in terms of number of stars or number of mentions) were:

Friendship / community (6 stars and 7 mentions)

  • Sense of part of a community **
  • Interaction – people *
  • Friendship *
  • Pulled me out of my shell more outgoing *
  • Meeting people
  • When one struggles someone’s there alongside
  • Sense of being a part of something

Wellbeing / change (6 stars / 3 mentions)

  • Changed life ***
  • You feel much better for coming ***
  • I get withdrawal symptoms if I haven’t been for a while

Confidence (1 star / 4 mentions)

  • Sense of satisfaction and achievement *
  • More confident
  • More willing to try new things
  • Sense of achievement

Change in perspective (1 star / 3 mentions)

  • Special things that open up your mind*
  • Opens your horizons
  • Valuing individual perspectives

Access (3 mentions)

  • Access to Museums, Culture
  • I have discovered I enjoy learning (e.g. watching programmes on BBC4 which I would not have done before)
  • Curious about the world around me

Purpose (1 mention)

  • Given me a new purpose for living

Critical Success Factors

Although not initially an aim of the focus group, participants commented on why they thought the project had been successful. They noted that the project felt safe, well managed and well-held, and a place where they did not feel judged. The fact that it was a two-year project also enabled them to feel safe, knowing that it was going to carry on. They appreciated the new experiences it gave them, but also felt that it enabled them to connect with a sense of history, culture and place leading to a greater sense of connection and belonging.

Duration (6 stars / 2 mentions)

  • 2-year project – means long enough to forge friendships ******
    • Knowing it’s not going to shut down after a couple of months

New Experiences (5 stars / 4 mentions)

  • New experiences ***
    • Access to museums/galleries for free (low incomes) **
    • Learning
    • Access not just entrance fee – transport/food

Situated in place, history and culture (2 stars / 3 mentions)

  • Local history, place **
    • Learning about culture + place
    • Appreciate landscape/place/history

Safe Space (2 stars / 2 mentions)

  • Safe environment**
    • Non-judgemental

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