The big picture
This briefing is based on a scoping review of evidence on the community wellbeing impacts of historic places and assets.
We wanted to find out more about what current evidence says about impacts, and to understand the current state of the evidence-base in terms of quality and coverage.
We found that historic places and assets, and interventions associated with them, can have a wide range of beneficial impacts on the physical, mental and social wellbeing of
individuals and communities.
We also identified some limitations and gaps in current evidence which could be addressed in new research. This includes the need for a greater understanding of wellbeing impacts within community settings and more evidence on how impacts may vary between different population groups.
Heritage is defined as ‘Inherited resources which people value for reasons beyond mere utility.’ (English Heritage, 2008)
Historic places and assets include:
- Monuments, castles and ruins
- Historic buildings such as museum, galleries and theatres
- Historic parks and gardens
- Historic places of worship and burial grounds
- Conservation sites and areas
- Community archaeological sites
- Historic urban areas, described for example as the ‘old town’ or ‘old quarter’
- ‘Everyday’ physical heritage in communities, for example, Victorian terraces and public houses
Evidence in numbers
papers and reports examined
Were published in English between 1990 and 2018.
What do you need to know?
5 minute read
Historic buildings and places, and associated activities and interventions, can have a wide range of beneficial impacts on the physical, mental and social wellbeing of individuals and communities.
Individual wellbeing impact
Evidence shows impacts on individual wellbeing, including outcomes such as increased confidence, social connectivity and life satisfaction. However, the quality of the studies in the scoping review is mixed.
Community wellbeing impact
There is also some higher and lower quality evidence on community wellbeing impacts, including outcomes on social relationships, sense of belonging, pride of place, ownership and collective empowerment.
The studies in the scoping review included a wide range of types of evidence – including qualitative, quantitative and mixed-method studies. However, most evidence was of lower methodological quality, and there is a need for more robust methods in future research.
We found over 180 different measures used to demonstrate wellbeing outcomes across the studies. This shows the complexity of reviewing interventions in community settings, with wellbeing outcomes differing according to local place, context and populations. However, it also creates challenges for demonstrating collective wellbeing outcomes across a range of settings, activities and interventions.
Some studies found some potentially negative impacts of interventions on some participants.
Adverse impacts appear to be related to how well the design and delivery of interventions considered the needs of specific individuals and groups. planning of changes to places and spaces.
For example, some participants who were acutely ill found some settings, such as war-related exhibits, aggravated their psychosis/paranoia. It appears that most potential adverse impacts could be reduced or eliminated by well designed and resourced interventions tailored to the needs of participants.
State of the evidence
Heritage-based cultural activities in museums (12 studies)
Higher quality evidence of impact on individual wellbeing and social relationships – including on outcomes of increased confidence, sense of empowerment and social connectivity.
Some higher and lower quality evidence of impacts on wider community wellbeing – including increased sense of belonging.
Heritage object handling in hospital, healthcare and related settings (13 studies)
Higher quality evidence on the impact of heritage object handling on individual wellbeing – including increased confidence and positive emotions.
Visiting museums, historic houses, other heritage sites (12 studies)
Lower quality evidence on individual wellbeing – including beneficial impacts of living near/visiting such sites on life satisfaction and happiness.
Some lower quality evidence on social relations, including increased social connectivity.
Heritage volunteering (6 studies)
Higher and lower quality evidence on improvements to individual wellbeing, skills and learning, and social connectivity.
Heritage-based social engagement and inclusion projects (9 studies)
Higher and lower quality evidence of impacts on community wellbeing, including increased social connectivity, social capital and empowerment.
Activities in historic landscapes & parks (4 studies)
Positive outcomes for individual and community wellbeing, with mainly lower quality evidence – including increased sense and pride of place.
Community archaeology or community heritage research (6 studies)
Higher and lower quality evidence on individual wellbeing – including increase confidence, satisfaction and sense of empowerment.
Lower quality evidence of impacts on community wellbeing, including increased social connectivity, sense of belonging and empowerment.
Living in historic places (7 studies)
Lower quality evidence of impacts on individual wellbeing and community wellbeing, including evidence of positive impacts on sense of pride, sense of place, social capital and the local economy, and some evidence of potential negative impacts from heritage-led regeneration and tourism on residents.
Wider social & economic impacts of historic places and assets (6 studies)
Lower quality evidence of impacts on individual wellbeing and community wellbeing, including improved sense of identity, quality of life, social connectivity, community identity, education, skills and employment.
The review identified important limitations and gaps in current the evidence-base and review methods.
Current review methods do not fully address the complexity of interventions in community settings. Studies designed to explore such complexity are often sophisticated, mixed-method studies, which are not fully captured within review quality appraisal methods. This is true across all reviews in areas of complex social determinants of wellbeing.
We need more studies that compare how experience differs within and across different groups, including socioeconomic and protected characteristics groups. There have been considerable efforts by heritage interventions to target activities towards certain groups (including young people, black and minority ethnic [BAME] groups, and people experiencing physical or mental health difficulties). But most of the studies did not make comparisons between groups such as low and high income participants. These comparisons are needed so that we can understand inequalities in outcomes, and design interventions to address the needs of particular groups.
We need higher quality methodologies to inform practice. Most of the evidence was low methodological quality. Key gaps in quality we need to address include: more longitudinal research; larger sample sizes; use of control groups; random selection of participants.
Community interventions are, however, often deliberately tailored to local and community context, and often designed and led by community groups themselves. One of the key challenges for future studies is that in community settings, the standardisation of interventions that some higher quality methodologies require may be inappropriate.
We need more research on heritage assets in a wider range of regions, including rural and coastal areas. Much of the research was conducted in London and the South East of England.
Evidence into action
For future research
- Develop a coordinated approach to raising the methodological quality of the evidence-base over time. This should involve multiple stakeholders, to be responsive to a variety of contexts and the complexity of community settings.
- Develop a shared and evidence-based conceptual framework for wellbeing and community wellbeing across the heritage sector. This would be a shared vision for wellbeing that could be adopted and used to underpin research across the heritage sector.
For practitioners and policy-makers
- Meaningfully empower communities to help shape the nature of heritage policies and interventions. Lessons can be learned from our review of joint-decision making and meaningful participation in communities.
- View the impacts of heritage places and assets through an inequalities lens that focuses attention on positive and negative impacts and the distribution of impacts within and across different population groups.