Today we publish the scoping review on heritage and wellbeing, from the community wellbeing evidence programme. It looked at 75 papers and reports on the impact of heritage places, interventions, and assets – things like historic objects, monuments or buildings – to discover how they impact our individual and community wellbeing.

Recent surveys in England have found that 95% of adults think it is important to look after heritage buildings; 73% had visited a heritage site over twelve months; over 315,000 people were heritage volunteers; and 80% of people thought that local heritage makes their area a better place to live (DCMS, 2015; Historic England, 2017).

The scoping review sets out the state of the evidence on the impact of interacting with heritage on our wellbeing. It finds that historic places, assets – and associated activities and interventions – can have a wide range of beneficial impacts on the physical, mental and social wellbeing of individuals and communities.

Key messages from the scoping review

  • The evidence shows positive impacts on individual wellbeing, including outcomes such as increased confidence, social connectivity and life satisfaction.
  • There is also evidence of positive effects on community wellbeing, including outcomes on social relationships, sense of belonging, pride of place, ownership and collective empowerment.
  • The evidence is of mixed quality, which reflects the fact that studies designed to explore such complexity are often not fully captured within reviews like this.
  • There are evidence gaps on research into:
    • the experiences within and across different groups, including socioeconomic and protected characteristics
    • on heritage assets in a wider range of regions, including rural and coastal areas.
  • Potential negative impacts of interventions appear to be related to how well the design and delivery of interventions considered the needs of specific individuals and groups.

What do we mean by ‘heritage’?

The review considered a wide range of heritage settings included museums, archives, cathedrals, historic houses, residential areas, heritage landscapes, hospitals, healthcare settings, schools, and community archaeological sites.

Evidence from the 75 studies was categorised into nine evidence themes:

  1. Heritage-based cultural activities in museums
  2. Heritage object handling in hospital, healthcare and related settings
  3. Visiting museums, historic houses, other heritage sites
  4. Heritage-based social engagement and inclusion projects
  5. Heritage volunteering
  6. Activities in historic landscapes and parks
  7. Community archaeology or community heritage research
  8. Living in historic places
  9. Wider social and economic impacts of historic places and assets

Places, spaces, people and wellbeing