Aerial view from south across the site of Kit Hill, Cornwall. It shows a folly in the centre surrounded by the countryside.
Folly, Kit Hill, Stokeclimsland, Cornwall. A late 18th century folly built in around 1780 by Sir John Call, at the summit of Kit Hill. © Historic England Archive. DP348625.
Folly, Kit Hill, Stokeclimsland, Cornwall. A late 18th century folly built in around 1780 by Sir John Call, at the summit of Kit Hill. © Historic England Archive. DP348625.

Heritage and the Wellbeing Economy

Part of the Heritage Counts series. 10 minute read.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the most commonly-used measure of economic performance. However, it is increasingly recognised that GDP is an incomplete measure of public welfare and sustainable development. Wellbeing on the other hand, is about how people feel (HM Treasury, 2021) and is a more holistic measure of performance and of the welfare of communities and nations.

Since 2018, the UK’s HM Treasury has placed greater weight on wellbeing as a core economic outcome in its revised publications of the 'Green Book', the framework under which government departments make investment decisions. In this, social or public value is seen to include all significant costs and benefits that affect the welfare and wellbeing of the population, not just market effects (HM Treasury, 2023). Similarly, the UK's Office for National Statistics’ 'Beyond GDP' initiative seeks to develop supplementary measures that provide a more holistic understanding of the UK economy, society and the environment (Heys, 2022). The ONS now regularly publishes wellbeing statistics via the UK Measures of National Well-being Dashboard (ONS).

The focus on wellbeing valuation represents a significant shift in economic discourse and has real implications for the heritage sector. This is because many of the benefits of heritage are difficult to capture using orthodox marked based economic valuation tools and metrics such as GDP, thus heritage is often undervalued or in many cases given no value at all. Yet, there is a growing body of evidence that demonstrates the connection between heritage and wellbeing. Being able to articulate these benefits and quantify them creates opportunities to better capture and share the value of heritage on an economic platform.

Heritage contributes to life satisfaction

Evidence demonstrates that visiting heritage sites can boost life satisfaction and happiness.

  • The Human Henge Project was initiated to explore the potential of historic landscapes, specifically Stonehenge, in enhancing mental health outcomes for individuals from Wiltshire with long-term mental health conditions. Using the Short Warwick Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale to measure participants’ mental wellbeing before, during and after intervention (see box “measuring wellbeing”), the project was able to demonstrate an improvement in life satisfaction amongst participants by 0.68 points on a scale from zero to ten (Drysdale, 2018; Krekel and Frijters, 2021)
  • Wheatley et al (2019) found that an increase in participation in arts events, and visits to historical sites and museums led to a positive shift in life satisfaction. Using data from the UK's "Understanding Society" survey and logit estimations, the study finds that visiting historical sites leads to a 1.086 unit increase in life satisfaction
  • The Young HUNT Study highlighted the positive associations between cultural activity participation and self-perceived health, life satisfaction, and mental health among adolescents in Norway (Hansen et al, 2015). Those who had frequent participation in cultural activities reported better health outcomes compared to inactive adolescents
  • Fujiwara et al (2014) found that visiting heritage sites positively influences life satisfaction. Using the Understanding Society survey data, they analysed the effects of various heritage sites on different societal groups. They assigned monetary values (see below) to these impacts, representing the amount needed to offset the wellbeing benefits gained from visiting the sites
Visit TypeAnnual Value (per person)

Heritage overall


Historic town


Historic building


Historic industrial site


Historic place of worship


Archaeological site£847

Source: Fujiwara et al, 2014

  • People who cease visiting heritage sites report significant declines in physical health, mental health and life satisfaction. Findings of the NatCen research on patterns of participation for adults using the Understanding Society data, found that those who visited heritage sites in 2010/11 but were no longer doing so in the year before the 2013/14 survey, had a decline of 1.4 points in their mental health score. This is compared with declines of between 0.7 and 1.1 for other groups. The same group had the biggest decline of 0.3 in their average life satisfaction score. These results remained significant after controlling for the full range of factors in the model. Although it is not possible to fully establish patterns of causality, these results are suggestive of a situation where declining ability to participate in heritage activities have a negative impact on wellbeing (Lakey et al, 2017)

Heritage volunteering increases productivity and wellbeing

  • The National Lottery Heritage Fund’s, Volunteering for Wellbeing Project in Greater Manchester (2018) was a training and volunteering initiative across 10 heritage sites targeting long-term unemployed or socially isolated people. After a year, 75% of participants experienced a significant boost in wellbeing, 60% maintained this wellbeing over the next 2 to 3 years, and 30% secured employment due to the skills acquired during the project. The project evaluation found that for every pound invested, it yielded a socio-economic return of £3.50 (The National Lottery Heritage Fund, 2018)
  • A study by Ateca-Amestoy et al (2021) explored the relationship between heritage engagement and subjective wellbeing measured as life satisfaction in the European Union. The findings indicate that volunteering in heritage-related activities is associated with a 0.214-unit increase in life satisfaction. The probability of being "very satisfied" with one's life increases from 26.84% to 32.87% when someone volunteers, assuming all other factors remain constant
  • The 2020 ‘House of Good’ Report measured the wellbeing value from church volunteering (The Churches Trust, 2020). Using a wellbeing valuation method, the study finds that volunteering generates an average wellbeing value of £4,712 annually for each church. Cumulatively, across all UK churches, the total wellbeing value is approximately £190 million per year

Visiting heritage sites can increase wellbeing and economic outcomes

Evidence suggests that visiting heritage can have a positive impact on mental health and wellbeing which translates to positive economic outcomes. 

  • A mixed-method study by DC Research (2015) found evidence that visiting independently owned historic houses and gardens improved social connectivity, education and learning, physical activity and health, the physical environment, the economy, employment levels, and viability of the local areas. 
  • Research by Fujiwara et al. (2014) shows how engagement with heritage can contribute to social cohesion, creating the basis for healthy communities that can further pursue local growth. The results suggest  that certain groups derive higher wellbeing benefits from heritage participation, particularly those: 
    • with a long-standing illness or disability (compared to healthy people) 
    • in 'blue-collar’ occupations (compared to other occupations) 
    • over 45 years of age (compared to people under 45) 
    • without children (compared to parents). 
  • Two other observational studies led by Fujiwara found evidence of significant associations between museum visiting and living in proximity to heritage places/features and higher levels of happiness and self-reported health (Fujiwara, 2013) and higher likelihood of reporting being in good health (Fujiwara and MacKerran 2015). Each of the studies controlled for the potential effects of socioeconomic status. 

Wellbeing valuations significantly impact cost benefit analyses and decisions

A wellbeing-led valuation more fully captures and values the multidimensional contributions of heritage to people and communities. Including the impact of wellbeing in cost-benefit analysis gives a more comprehensive picture for investment decisions.

  • The ONS’ Beyond GDP initiative demonstrates the significance of multidimensional valuations. In 2022, the ONS introduced new metrics to give a more comprehensive summary of the UK’s wealth position (Heys, 2022):
    • The UK’s Inclusive Net Worth stands at £36 trillion in 2020
    • This is 15 times larger than GDP and three times the size of the traditional net worth measure which equals £11 trillion in 2020. The latter excludes environmental assets and human capital, containing just the assets in the national accounts

New ways of measuring Net Worth

‘Inclusive Net Worth’ is the sum of all of the UK's stocks of produced capital (which is broadly captured in GDP such as roads, software, machinery and buildings), human capital (the knowledge, skills, competencies and attributes embodied in individuals that aid the creation of personal, social and economic well-being), natural capital (the stocks of natural assets such as soil, air, water and all living things)and financial assets less liabilities.

This metric does not specifically include culture and heritage capital which would require a culture and heritage capital account that currently does not exist. Read about the culture and heritage capital programme which aims to create a capital account for culture and heritage.

  • Research by Krekel and Frijters (2021) shows that when using a traditional Cost Benefit Analysis, for the Hull City of Culture evaluation, Hull 2017 does not look like a desirable project, with a negative net present value of -£4.4 million. But when a wellbeing approach is adopted Hull 2017 is demonstrated to have provided the United Kingdom with 28,000 “Wellbeing-adjusted Life Years” (WELLBYs)* at a unit cost of £1,171, which is better value for money than the 2012 London Olympics. The overall net present value using this approach is +£247.6 million

The WELLBY Approach*

The WELLBY or “Wellbeing-adjusted Life Year”. It is defined as a change in life satisfaction of 1 point on a scale of 0 to 10, affecting one person for one year (Fawcett, 2023).

A value of a one-point change is pegged to the “Quality-adjusted Life Year” (QALY). A QALY is used frequently in health economics and by the NHS to assess the cost effectiveness and value of medical interventions in a year. The QALY takes a value between 0 and 1, where 1 is one year of life in perfect health.  One QALY is worth £70,158 in 2019 prices and is associated with a 7-point change in life satisfaction. From this 1 WELLBY is estimated to have a monetary equivalent value of £13,000 (according to 2019 price levels) with a lower bound of £10,000 and an upper bound of £16,000 (HM Treasury, 2021).

For example:

Reducing life satisfaction by 0.4 for 1 year would have a value of 0.4 x £13,000 = £5,200, with a range of £4,000 to £6,400. The same WELLBY value should be applied to all individuals regardless of income and represents a population average willingness to pay (HM Treasury, 2021). In wellbeing cost-effectiveness analysis, the best monetary value for wellbeing is based on the opportunity cost of public funds, equating to the marginal cost of producing more wellbeing.

Measuring wellbeing

The Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scales were developed to enable the measuring of mental wellbeing in the general population and the evaluation of projects, programmes and policies which aim to improve mental wellbeing. There are two versions of the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale: The 14-item scale WEMWBS has 5 response categories, summed to provide a single score. The 7-item scale WEMWBS which shorter so can save valuable space and time in evaluations. Comparative analysis against the UK national average is possible and it can also detect improvement or deterioration in many different situations.

Source: Warwick University (2019) ‘The Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS)’. Available at:  (Accessed: 11.10.23)

The office for National Statistics (ONS) has a set of 4 key measure which aim to provide accepted and trusted measures of the nation’s well-being.

On a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is “not at all” and 10 is “completely”:

  1. Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?
  2. Overall, to what extent do you feel that the things you do in your life are worthwhile?
  3. Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?
  4. On a scale where 0 is “not at all anxious” and 10 is “completely anxious”, overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday?

Multiple statistical surveys ask these questions including the Annual population survey, English Housing Survey and also the DCMS Participation Survey (previously the Taking Part Survey).

Source: ONS (2018). ‘Surveys using our four personal well-being questions - Office for National Statistics’. Available at: (Accessed 11.10.23)

A national accounting framework for wellbeing using the European Social Survey questions, to capture subcomponent and component of social and personal wellbeing.

Personal wellbeing is made up of 5 components captured in surveys: Emotional well-being; Satisfying life; Vitality; Resilience and self-esteem; Positive functioning.

Social wellbeing made up of two main components: Supportive relationships; Trust and belonging.

A satellite indicator of well-being at work has also been created.

Source: NEF (2017) ‘National Accounts of Well-being: bringing real wealth onto the balance sheet’. Available at: (Accessed: 11.10.23)

The GHQ is a 60-item self-administered instrument used for aiding the primary care practitioner in detecting those patients most likely to have psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety. There are also shorter surveys GHQ12; GHQ 28, GHQ 30.

Research using WEMWBS and GHQ 12 shows that men and women with a high GHQ-12 score had lower average well-being scores than those with lower GHQ-12 scores (HSE, 2016)

Source: GL Assessment (2017) ‘General Health Questionnaire’. Available at:  (Accessed: 11.10.23)

As part of the Medical Outcomes Study (MOS), a multi-year, multi-site study to explain variations in patient outcomes, RAND developed the 36-Item Short Form Health Survey (SF-36) in 1992. SF-36 is a set of generic, coherent, and easily administered quality-of-life measures. These measures rely upon patient self-reporting and have been widely used. -Form Health Survey (SF-36) and shorter version SF-12.

Source: (2023) ‘36-Item Short Form Survey Instrument (SF-36)’. Available at:  (Accessed: 11.10.23)

The WHOQOL is a quality of life assessment developed by the WHOQOL Group with fifteen international field centres, simultaneously, in an attempt to develop a quality of life assessment that would be applicable cross-culturally.

It is a 100-question assessment that currently exists in directly comparable forms in 29 language versions. It yields a multi-dimensional profile of scores across domains and sub-domains (facets) of quality of life. More recently, the WHOQOL-BREF, an abbreviated 26 item assessment has been developed.

Source: World Health Organisation (1998) ‘WHOQOL User Manual’. Available at: (Accessed: 11.10.23)

The PANAS (Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, 1988) is one of the most widely used scales to measure mood or emotion. This brief scale is comprised of 20 items, with 10 items measuring positive affect (e.g., excited, inspired) and 10 items measuring negative affect (e.g., upset, afraid). It uses a 5-point Likert Scale ranging from 1 “very slightly or not at all” to 5 “extremely”. Positive affect score: items are summed, yielding a range from 10 to 50. Higher score indicates greater levels of positive affect.

Source: Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, (1988) ‘Development and validation of brief measures of positive and negative affect: the PANAS scales’. Journal of personality and social psychology, 54(6), 1063.

Note this table presents the most common metrics but the list is not exhaustive. For more information, visit


  1. Ateca-Amestoy, V., et al. (2021) ‘Heritage Engagement and Subjective Well-Being in the European Union.’ Sustainability, vol. 13, no. 17, 26 Aug. 2021, pp. 9623–9623. Available at: (Accessed 14.09.23) 
  2. ‌DC Research (2015) ‘The economic and social contribution of independently owned historic houses and gardens’. Carlisle: DC Research Ltd. Available at: (Accessed: 02.10.23) 
  3. Drysdale, L. (2018). ‘Human Henge Evaluation Report’. Available at: (Accessed: 28.09.23) 
  4. Fawcett, R. (2023). Converting the WELLBY - What Works Wellbeing. Available at:'s%202021%20Wellbeing,valuation%20methods%20(detailed%20below). (Accessed: 30.10.23) 
  5. Krekel, C. and Frijters, P. (2021). ‘A Handbook for Wellbeing Policy-Making’. Available at: (Accessed: 30.08.23) 
  6. Fujiwara, D. and MacKerran, G. (2015) ‘Cultural activities, art forms and wellbeing’. London: The Arts Council England. 29. Available at: (Accessed: 14.10.23) 
  7. Fujiwara, D., Cornwall, T. and Dolan, P. (2014) ‘Heritage and Wellbeing. Available at: (Accessed: 21.08.23) 
  8. Fujiwara, D. (2013) ‘Museums and happiness: the value of participating in museums and the arts’. London: Arts Council. Available at: (Accessed: 15.09.23) 
  9. Hansen, E., et al (2015) ‘Cultural activity participation and associations with self-perceived health, life-satisfaction and mental health: the Young HUNT Study, Norway’. BMC Public Health, 15(1). Available at: (Accessed: 10.10.23) 
  10. Heys, R. (2022) ‘New Beyond GDP measures for the UK: a workplan for measuring inclusive income’. Available at:  (Accessed: 16.10.2023)
  11. HM Treasury (2023). ‘The Green Book’. Available at: (Accessed: 29.09.23) 
  12. HM Treasury (2021) ‘Wellbeing Guidance for Appraisal: Supplementary Green Book Guidance’. Available at: (Accessed: 08.10.23) 
  13. Lakey J, Smith N, Oskala A, McManus S., (2017) ‘Culture, sport and wellbeing: findings from the Understanding Society adult survey’. London: NatCen Social Research. Available at: (Accessed: 07.08.23) 
  14. Office for national statistics (2022). ‘Measuring progress: GDP and beyond - Office for National Statistics’. Available at: (Accessed: 13.09.23)   
  15. The National Churches Trust (2020) ‘The economic and social value of church buildings to the UK Key Findings and Technical Report’. Available at: (Accessed: 17.10.23) 
  16. The National Lottery Heritage Fund, (2018) ‘Improving Futures: Volunteering for Wellbeing’. Available at: (Accessed: 07.10.23) 
  17. Wheatley, Daniel, and Craig Bickerton (2019) ‘Measuring Changes in Subjective Well-Being from Engagement in the Arts, Culture and Sport.’ ResearchGate, Springer Nature. Available at: (Accessed: 15.09.23)