Two boys leaning on a wall overlooking the London city skyline
A view of the National Maritime Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as seen from Greenwich Royal Park. The Canary Wharf skyline behind provides a modern contrast. © Fas Khan c/o Unsplash
A view of the National Maritime Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as seen from Greenwich Royal Park. The Canary Wharf skyline behind provides a modern contrast. © Fas Khan c/o Unsplash

What We Know About Who Participates in Heritage

Part of the Heritage Counts series. 4 minute read.

Heritage is part of the fabric of our everyday lives. It provides opportunities for unique experiences both physically and digitally.

This article presents statistics on who takes up these experiences and highlights where there are opportunities to widen participation and improve access to historic buildings, sites and heritage resources.

Heritage is enjoyed by millions

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) flagship survey ‘Taking Part’ tracked levels of heritage engagement from 2005/06 until 2020/21, when the time series was disrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Levels of participation in heritage saw little change during this time period. In 2019/20, 73% of respondents said they had visited a heritage site in the last 12 months, from a baseline of 70% recorded in 2005/06 (DCMS, 2020).

Our main source of official statistics now comes from The Participation Survey. This is a survey of adults in England that records levels of participation in a range of sectors, including heritage. It shows the following:

  • Many of us have experiences in the historic environment each year. In 2021/22, 63% of adults said they had visited a heritage site in person in the last 12 months (1). The most popular places to visit were parks/gardens with historic features (40%), historic landscapes/habitats (35%) and historic towns/cities (29%)
  • Physical engagement is much higher than digital engagement (2). In 2021/22, 20% of adults had engaged with heritage in a digital format. (DCMS, 2022). This is a pattern also seen in other cultural sectors

In addition, insight from The Visitor Attractions survey, an annual survey of visitor attractions in England undertaken by Historic England in collaboration with Visit England, shows that historic visitor attractions are enjoyed by millions of people every year. The most recent survey was carried out in 2023, and shows:

  • For the year 2023, attractions responding to the survey reported 71,741,000 visitors, with an average of 111,227 visitors per historic attraction.
  • On average, the number of admissions to historic sites grew by 11% compared to 2022.
  • The number of visitors to historic attractions in 2023 was 12% short of the number of visitors in 2019 (pre COVID-19 pandemic). However, historic sites outperformed the wider attractions sector, where the number of visitors was 28% below 2019 levels.

Participation in heritage can vary by sociodemographic group

Both Taking Part and the current Participation Survey suggest that participation in heritage varies, with people from ethnic backgrounds and residents of more deprived areas underrepresented in the official statistics.

  • In 2019/20, 75.3% of people from a White background reported engaging with heritage in the last 12 months compared to 59.5% of people who identified as from an Asian background and 41.1% of people who identified as Black (DCMS, 2020)
  • The Participation Survey shows a negative relationship between engagement and IMD (Index of Multiple Deprivation), with people living in more deprived neighbourhoods less likely to engage in heritage (DCMS, 2022). This is supported by secondary analysis of data from the Understanding Society and Taking Part survey published in 2021. These found that, regardless of their individual characteristics, people living in the most deprived places are less likely to engage than those in the least deprived (Mak et al, 2021)
  • On the other hand, the gap between those visiting heritage with a long-term illness or disability has shrunk over time, reflecting improvements in the accessibility of heritage sites. In 2005/06, 63.9% of respondents with a limiting illness or disability participated in the historic environment; by 2019/20, this figure had risen to 70.8% (Heritage Indicators, 2021)

Opportunities to increase heritage participation exist

Widening participation with heritage is a priority for the sector given the importance of heritage to people’s mental health wellbeing (see evidence reviews by Maeer et al, 2016; Pennington et al, 2018; and Gallou, 2022).

The data presented above suggests there are opportunities for the heritage sector to reach wider and more diverse audiences by addressing the following key barriers:

Exposure to heritage is associated with visits.
A study (McDonald et al, 2023) found that respondents with at least 1 heritage site of any type in their neighbourhood were significantly more likely to have visited a heritage site in the past year than those with no sites.

Visiting a heritage site typically involves transport and entry fees.
Nearly 4 in 10 participants (39%) said heritage activities are too expensive in a survey of approximately 2000 adults undertaken by Britain Thinks, on behalf of the Heritage Fund (Britain Thinks, 2022). We also know from other data sources that cost is a barrier to participation among lower socio-economic groups in other sectors, such as sport (Public Health England, 2021).

Aside from COVID-19, the top reported reasons for not engaging with heritage are ‘no reason in particular’, ‘I’m not interested’, and ‘I don’t have time’, according to the Participation Survey (DCMS, 2022).
More detailed research, such as that commissioned by the National Audit Office (2009) over a decade ago, highlighted a lack of awareness of heritage, assumptions about typical audiences for heritage and perceived cultural irrelevance of heritage as important factors explaining participation gaps (National Audit Office, 2009).


  1. Respondents are asked whether they had visited any of the following places in person: a city/town with celebrated historic nature; a historic building; a historic place of worship; park/garden with historic features; a place connected with industrial history; monument/archaeological site; site connected with sports heritage; site connected with maritime heritage; historic landscape/habitat; some other historic place
  2. Respondents were asked which of the following virtual/online activities they had done: virtual tour; researched local history online; researched a museum/gallery collection online; viewed documents from an archive; engaged with content from heritage sites


  1. BDRC (2019) Visitor Attraction Trends in England, Trends report 2018. Available at: (Accessed 19.05.23).
  2. Britain Thinks (2022) National Lottery Heritage Fund Strategy Development Research. Available at: National Lottery Heritage Fund Strategy Development Research ( (Accessed 05.05.23).  
  3. DCMS (2020) ‘Heritage – Taking Part Survey 2019/20’. Available at  (Accessed: 09.02.23). 
  4. DCMS (2022) 'Participation Survey' Oct 2021 to March 2022. Available at:   (Accessed: 09.02.23). 
  5. Gallou, E., 2022. Heritage and pathways to wellbeing: From personal to social benefits, between experience identity and capability shaping. Wellbeing, Space and Society, 3, p.100084. (Accessed 19.05.23) 
  6. Historic England (2021) Heritage Indicators. Available at: Heritage Indicators 2021 ( 
  7. Macdonald L., Nicholls N., Gallou E., Monkton, L., Mitchell, R. (2023) Is spatial exposure to heritage associated with visits to heritage and to mental health? A crosssectional study using data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS). BMJ Open 2023;13:e066986. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2022-066986 (Accessed 10.05.23)   
  8. Maeer, G., Robinson, A. and Hobson, M., 2016. Values and benefits of heritage: A research review. Heritage lottery fund. Available at: Values and benefits of heritage: A research review ( (Accessed 19.05.23) 
  9. Mak, H.W., Coulter, R., Fancourt, D. (2021) ‘Associations between neighbourhood deprivation and engagement in arts, culture and heritage: evidence from two nationally-representative samples’. BMC Public Health , 21 , Article 1685. Available at 10.1186/s12889-021-11740-6. (Accessed:  09.02.23). 
  10. Pennington A, Jones R, Bagnall A-M, South J, Corcoran R (2018) ‘The impact of historic places and assets on community wellbeing - a scoping review’. Available at (Accessed: 09.02.23). 
  11. Public Health England (2021) Understanding and addressing inequalities in physical activity. Evidence-based guidance for commissioners. Available at: Physical activity: understanding and addressing inequalities - GOV.UK ( (Accessed 19.05.23) 
  12. Rahim, N. and Mavra, L. (2009) Barriers to Engagement in Heritage by Currently Under- Represented Groups. An Inclusion Report to the National Audit Office. Available at: Proposal Title ( (Accessed 19.05.23) 
  13. Visit Britain (2021) ‘Visitor Attraction Trends in England 2020’ Full report. Available at: (Accessed: 09.02.23).