Three children and two adults looking at a banner map on an indoor floor.
School children from Hudson Primary School, Sunderland engaging with the Heritage Action Zone High Streets programme. © Historic England Archive. DP290446.
School children from Hudson Primary School, Sunderland engaging with the Heritage Action Zone High Streets programme. © Historic England Archive. DP290446.

Opportunities and Benefits of Heritage for Young People

Part of the Heritage Counts series. 5.5 minute read. 

In this article, we review the evidence on heritage engagement amongst young people to highlight the role of heritage in supporting young people’s education and development, relationships with place, and mental health.

Heritage engagement can support young people’s development and education

Statistics suggest that young people are accessing historic sites less often than other groups in our population.

According to the Participation Survey, younger people are less engaged with heritage than older groups. In 2022/23, the results showed that 60% of 16 to 19 year olds physically engaged with the heritage sector, compared to 73% of 69 year old adults. (DCMS, 2023)

Efforts to increase heritage engagement and representation amongst young people have grown in recent years, with programmes such as Heritage Fund’s Kick the Dust.

Kick the Dust was designed to address some of the barriers identified by previous research. These were, most notably, the nature of engagement (limited to school visits and work experience) and feelings among young people that they are not the target audience for heritage activities (Heritage Fund, 2019; Britain Thinks and NHLF, 2015; Icarus, 2015)

  • Within a subsample of 16 to 18 year olds, participants in the arts and visitors to heritage sites and libraries were found to be more likely on average to go on to further education in later years (0.99%, 1.02%, and 0.66% respectively) (Fujjwara et al, 2015)
  • A review of existing youth programmes conducted by the ICRD (on behalf of Historic England) notes that young people’s participation in heritage projects contributes to a range of personal development outcomes and interpersonal skills. This, in turn, gives young people confidence to apply for further education and employment. This includes increased confidence, communication skills, critical thinking, empathy, resilience, teamwork, and leadership. (ICRD, 2023)
  • The heritage sector can provide opportunities for young people to work as ‘experts’ by leading their own historical investigations (see case study of an archaeology project carried out in a small rural primary school in North-East Scotland, Curtis et al, 2019)

The importance of a youth voice in heritage projects

A key recommendation from the ICRD report:

Young people should be invited to explore aspects of their own heritage and/or that which they themselves consider to be important. They should also be engaged in the coproduction of activities from the outset, and empowered to define their own visions of heritage (with the guidance of the heritage experts).

  • Heritage can also support young people’s development in other ways. For example, historic places can function as spaces where children engage in creative and imaginative play which is important for developing children’s emotional and cognitive skills. A study exploring how children relate to historic sites found that imagination is a key way through which children make sense of the past (Trenter et al, 2021) More research on how the specific attributes of historic places are experienced by children is needed, to better understand how the historic environment can enable and support play and learning. 

Heritage can promote place attachment among children and young people

Place Attachment describes the emotional relationships or bonds between people and place. These bonds contribute to the development of identity, security and sense of belonging, which are vital for children and young people's wellbeing (Jack, 2010).  

Learning about the historic environment is one way children and young people can get to know their local place and develop these connections.

  • Severcan (2015) found that participation in heritage-based activities and place-knowledge learning was one way in which children's attachment to place increased
  • In the context of formal education, Grimshaw and Mates (2022) argue that learning about their urban local history and heritage can help children develop their 'sense of place'. Sense of place is a term used to encapsulate the relationships between people and places, which include emotional bonds, an important part of building social capital
  • An academic research study actively engaging young people and elderly individuals with local history found that younger participants experienced an enhanced sense of identity, increased 'social connectedness', as well as a greater attachment to place (Johnston and Marwood, 2017)
  • Historic England commissioned BMG research (2022) to examine the impacts of its Heritage Schools programme. Using data from annual evaluations carried out by QA Research, the study found that the vast majority of teachers (98%) agreed that as a result of learning about local heritage, their pupils had an increased sense of place

What is the Heritage Schools Programme?

Historic England’s Heritage Schools programme focuses on helping school children develop an understanding of their local heritage and its significance within the school curriculum. The programme has had positive outcomes for children by raising awareness of the role of place and improving pupils’ sense of pride. The programme has reached approximately 2 million children since it began in 2012.

Heritage can support young people’s mental health

Programmes that focus on familiarising children with historical places and their significance help to build a stronger attachment to where they live. This can improve their wellbeing and self-esteem by helping them understand their place in the world.

  • Analysis of data from the Understanding Society Youth Survey showed that frequent cultural engagement (visits) were significantly associated with increased life satisfaction (Lakey et al, 2017)
  • Analysis also found that visiting heritage sites was significantly associated with increased self-esteem amongst young and adolescent girls aged 10 to 15 (Lakey et al, 2017). Comparing girls who visit heritage sites with those who do not visit, finds that only 15% of those who visited reported a lack of ‘things to be proud of’, compared with 25% of non-visitors. (Lakey et al, 2017)

Proportion of young people who had low levels of self-esteem, by participation in visits to cultural sites, 2010/11

  • Parenting practices that promote cultural pride and knowledge through teaching children about their customs, history and heritage are particularly beneficial for children from minority ethnic backgrounds (Huguley et al, 2019)
  • Academics examined the impact of online engagement with arts and culture on depression and anxiety in young people aged between 16 and 24. This experimental study involved comparing a typical museum website with an online intervention encompassing the diverse human stories behind art and artefacts. The web experience co-produced with young people was more effective at reducing negative affect compared with a typical museum website. Overall, the analysis shows that online arts and culture can positively impact on young people’s mental health (Syed Sheriff et al, 2022)
  • Projects that connect young people with natural heritage are beneficial for mental health. For example, the ‘Keeping it Wild’ project run by the wildlife trust concluded that 77% of young people involved reported that their overall health and wellbeing has improved (Keeping it Wild, 2021). The mental health benefits of engaging with the natural environment for children and young people are widely evidenced (1). The National Trust’s ‘Natural Childhood’ report published in 2012 called for a reversal of the generational decline in connection with the natural world on this basis (Moss, 2012)


  1. For example, Adams and Savahl, 2017; Gill, 2014; Woolley, Pattacini and Somerset-Ward, 2011.


  1. Adams, S., and Savahl, S. (2017) 'Nature as children's space: A systematic review'. The Journal of Environmental Education, 48(5), 291–321. Available at: (Accessed 26.10.23)
  2. BMG (2022) ‘A study of the impact of the Heritage Schools programme 2022’. Available at: Learning about Local Heritage: Impact Study of Heritage Schools Programme ( (Accessed 04.09.23)
  3. Britain thinks and NLHF (2015) ‘20 Years in 12 Places: BritainThinks research for Heritage Lottery Fund’. Available at: (Accessed 01.09.23)
  4. Curtis, E., Murison, J. and Shepherd, C., (2019) ‘Co-productive research in a primary school environment: unearthing the past of Keig’. In Heritage as Community Research (pp. 187-208). Policy Press
  5. DCMS (2023) ‘Main report for the Participation Survey 2022-23’. Available at:,Headline%20findings,2021%2F22%20(88%25) (Accessed 08.09.23)
  6. Fujiwara, D. Kudrna, L. Cornwall, T. Laffan, K. and Dolan P. (2015) ‘Further analysis to value the health and educational benefits of sport and culture’. Available at: (Accessed 01.09.23)
  7. Gill, T., (2014) 'The benefits of children's engagement with nature: A systematic literature review'. Children Youth and Environments, 24(2), pp.10-34.
  8. Grimshaw, L. and Mates, L., (2022) ‘It’s part of our community, where we live’: Urban heritage and children’s sense of place. Urban Studies, 59(7), pp.1334-1352.
  9. Heritage Fund (2019) ‘The National Lottery Heritage Fund’s Kick the Dust Programme: Year 1 Report’. Available at: Kick The Dust year one evaluation, February 2019 | The National Lottery Heritage Fund (Accessed 01.09.23)
  10. Huguley JP, Wang M Te, Vasquez AC, Guo J. (2019) ‘Parental ethnic-racial socialization practices and the construction of children of color’s ethnic-racial identity: A research synthesis and meta-analysis’. Psychol Bull. 2019;145(5):437–58.Cited in (Accessed on: 01.09.23) 
  11. Icarus (2015) ‘Young people and the heritage sector’. Available at: (Accessed 01.09.23)  
  12. ICRD (2023) ‘Young People’s Engagements with Heritage: Tackling Inequality & Other Opportunities for Public Policy’. Available at: (Accessed 01.09.23)
  13. Jack, G., (2010) ‘Place matters: The significance of place attachments for children's well-being’. British Journal of Social Work, 40(3), pp.755-771.
  14. Johnston, R. and Marwood K. (2017) ‘Action heritage: research, communities, social justice’. International Journal of Heritage Studies. Available at: (Accessed on:01.09.23)
  15. Keeping it Wild (2021) ‘Final Impact Report 2021’, Shephard & Moyes Ltd. Available at: (Accessed on: 01.09.23)
  16. Lakey J, Smith N, Oskala A, McManus S., (2017b) ‘Culture, sport and wellbeing: findings from the Understanding Society youth survey’. London: NatCen Social Research. Available at: (Accessed 04.09.23)
  17. Moss, S. (2012). ‘Natural Childhood’. Swindon: National Trust. Available at: (Accessed on: 04.09.23)
  18. Natural England (2011) Children and the natural environment: experiences, influences and interventions. Available at: (Accessed 26.10.23)
  19. Severcan YC (2015) ‘The effects of children’s participation in planning and design activities on their place attachment’. Journal of Architectural and Planning Research 32(4): 271–293.
  20. Syed Sheriff, R.J., Vuorre, M., Riga, E., Przybylski, A.K., Adams, H., Harmer, C.J. and Geddes, J.R., (2023) ‘A co-produced online cultural experience compared to a typical museum website for mental health in people aged 16–24: A proof-of-principle randomised controlled trial’. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 57(5), pp.745-757. Available at: (Accessed on: 04.09.23)
  21. Trenter, C., Ludvigsson, D. and Stolare, M., (2021) ‘Collective immersion by affections: How children relate to heritage sites’. Public History Review, 28, pp.1-13. Available at:  (Accessed on: 04.09.23) 
  22. Woolley, Pattacini & Somerset-Ward, (2011) 'Children and the natural environment: experiences, influences and interventions - Summary'. Natural England Research Report NERR040. Available at: (Accessed: 23.09.23).