A new Heritage Index has been published revealing which places are making the best use of their heritage assets to attract new visitors, boost their economies and improve residents’ wellbeing.
Published by the RSA, in collaboration with the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), the Heritage Index reveals which areas have the most physical heritage assets, and how actively residents and visitors in those areas are involved with local heritage. By comparing the two, the RSA has created a nation-wide ranking by local area, alongside showing which areas can make more of their heritage.
While the RSA suggests that there are some predictable outcomes in areas which ranked high in the index, including the City of London and Kensington & Chelsea, there are also some surprises with Hastings, Southend-on-Sea and Barrow-in-Furness also featuring in the top ten assets listing. In terms of heritage activities, the Index rates Scarborough, South Lakeland and Norwich at the top, along with more traditional heritage places such as Oxford and Cambridge.
However, the Index shows that having a high concentration of heritage assets does not necessarily relate to high levels of heritage activity. For example, of the 81 local authorities in England which form the top quartile on the Assets Index, only 32 are also in the top quartile on the Activities Index. Of the top 20 local authorities on the Activities Index, only around half (11) appear in the top 20 authorities when ranked on assets.
Covering England, Scotland and Wales, the Index spans 329 local authorities and brings together over 100 data sets into a single score of heritage vitality. Data includes the number of listed buildings, battlefields and conservation areas, land designation, national parks, number of blue plaques, the number of heritage open days events taking place, and the number of young people who are active in heritage such as through archaeological clubs.
Interestingly, the report also maps the information to the latest well-being statistics, showing that areas which scored highly on the Heritage Index correlated with areas where residents tended to report high levels of well-being. The RSA suggests that it is interestingly ‘heritage activities rather than heritage assets which account for the strength of the link between heritage and wellbeing at a local scale’, demonstrating the importance of interpretation. While the report suggests that heritage assets along do not contribute to wellbeing, high level of heritage could be a driver. This supports recent Heritage Lottery Fund research [see Update article 'UK's heritage helps make us happier'] on the impact of heritage on wellbeing, and research conducted in Heritage Counts 2014.
The RSA has also published useful information on how the Index can be used by a number of stakeholders.
The RSA suggests that the Index can be used to attempt to bust common myths about heritage. First, the RSA suggests the Index debunks the myth that heritage reflects our most prosperous places, as many places scored very high despite having relatively poorer communities. This includes the cities of Burnley, Newport and Dundee. Second, an analysis of the index found that heritage is not biased toward big cities or the countryside, as neither urban nor rural areas are more likely to score better, or worse, on the Index. Third, the north-side divide does not in fact extend to England’s heritage, as for example, the 87 northern districts outperform the south in industrial history, and in landscape and natural heritage.
The RSA suggests that the Index can be used to make local strategies more successful. The report recommends that local authorities, public services, and corporations should use the Index as an evidence base to inform local strategies, especially in areas which are considering devolution deals [see DCLG press release this week]. Furthermore, the RSA suggests the Index can be used by those who want to boost tourism, employment or leisure alongside learning opportunities in their local areas.
To help improve the index, HLF is encouraging others to add datasets to the Index which relate to heritage assets of activity before a second edition is published in Summer 2016. The data itself is available to download so that you can adjust the weightings given to different types of heritage. The RSA has also made a useful guide ‘What can data reveal about Britain’s heritage?’ available.