A market scene in Birmingham with a mixture of old and new building styles in the background.
Heritage contributes to the rich sense of local identity. Research deepens that link. Rag Market, Birmingham. © Historic England DP195111
Heritage contributes to the rich sense of local identity. Research deepens that link. Rag Market, Birmingham. © Historic England DP195111

Research Theme: #Value

Heritage makes a significant contribution to our daily lives and reflects the diversity of both past and present communities. We need to be able to understand this better by researching how it contributes to a sense of identity; the value it has on our national and local economy, how it promotes wellbeing and how it strengthens, connects and empowers our communities. We need a better understanding of how heritage is meaningful to people in their everyday surroundings and why they engage with or feel excluded from their heritage.

We have thus subdivided this theme into:

Social Value

Heritage is a vital part of our society and contributes to social capital. It provides a link to the past, a sense of permanence, stability, and belonging. This in turn has many positive benefits, including increased individual and community sense of self-esteem and identity, and positively impacts on individual health and well-being. It fosters strong, resilient and more welcoming communities, and acts as a catalyst for involvement in shaping local areas.

Research into the complex relationships between heritage and society will have impact if it provides clear evidence for the real benefits the historic environment can offer society in terms of boosting pride in local areas, improving individual well-being and building better places to live and work. Innovative research data helping us to understand the range of values attributed to heritage by individuals and communities will help us shape our advice and policy, and will, in turn, ensure that more people can benefit
from their heritage.

Research questions that will help our mission include:

  • What is the contribution of heritage to individual and societal well-being and how does it work?
  • How can we measure and capture the social contribution of heritage?
  • What is the role of the historic environment in place-making and place-shaping?

Find out more about our research into the social value of heritage

Economic Value

An important reason for looking after and investing in our heritage is that it makes a significant contribution to the national, regional and local economy in a variety of economic
sectors and functions.

These include:

  • the tourism industry
  • the construction sector
  • conservation services
  • economic activity within historic buildings; investment in the investigation,research and display of archaeological sites and structures
  • education.

This variety makes it difficult to capture the value of heritage using orthodox economic methods, such as price or cost arising from the use, purchase or ownership of goods and services. In contrast heritage typically has what economists refer to as ‘nonuse
value’ – the value that people assign to things even if they never have and never will use

Our current economic research programme includes:

  • economic impact studies
  • contingent valuation research
  • heritage accounting studies
  • surveys of heritage owners, the wider public and organisations managing heritage
  • spatial impact assessments

Research will have impact if it develops and deploys innovative economic methods and
data sources to help us gain robust and up-todate insights into this complex landscape. Work to gather evidence of the economic value of heritage to individuals, businesses, communities and the wider economy will help make the case for new fiscal policy, and champion the cause of sustained investment, broadening the resources for the sector.

Research questions that will help our mission include:

  • What is the scale and value of the economic contribution of heritage to the national, regional and local economy?
  • What methods best capture the total economic value of heritage?
  • What central or local government fiscal measures could help prevent historic buildings from becoming redundant and vacant?
  • How can the public, private and third sectors collaborate most efficiently to provide a sustainable base for heritage?

Find out more about our research into the economic value of heritage

Contested values

Although we identify and celebrate our physical historic environment through historic buildings, archaeological sites and distinctive landscapes, our definition of heritage is itself influenced by current understanding, interpretations and attitudes. Different groups in society have different views on what heritage is, what it means and why it is important. Sometimes views on heritage (such as imperial, colonial or military heritage) and its preservation are passionately contested.

Research will have impact if it recognises and explores this complexity, and the disputed values that can sometimes result. It will help us gain a better informed approach to the appreciation and management of heritage. This will help us work more effectively with others, engage more widely, enrich the range of heritage assets deserving of protection and ensure that our National Heritage List for England, and all aspects of our work better reflect society as a whole.

Research questions that will help our mission include:

  • How can we better understand the diversity of attitudes to heritage?
  • How are hidden histories within society reflected in the historic environment?
  • How can the potentially contested nature of heritage be best addressed, and reflected in the National Heritage List for England?
  • How can new approaches to interpretation, including digital technologies, be used to provide multiple narratives, and to help arbitrate when heritage is contested?
  • How do we best acknowledge difficult or uncomfortable histories?

Read our statement on contested heritage

See our advice checklist for Local Authorities about contested heritage

Collaborate with us

If you'd like to collaborate with us on this theme please use the contact address below to get in touch.