View of Canary Wharf with the Thames in the foreground
Canary Wharf, London © Historic England DP096790
Canary Wharf, London © Historic England DP096790

Heritage in a Changing Society

This page highlights some key societal factors that affect the development of, and our perceptions of the historic environment.  All factors are regionally variable and will have local impacts, as a result understanding the direct relationship between these factors and the historic environment can be complex.

Society is constantly changing and these changes may be global, national or local.  What society looks like affects our collective identity, our understanding of our heritage and even how our local environment develops. A number of key factors are especially relevant to the historic environment in this ever changing world: 

  • Population
  • Migration
  • Demographic profile
  • Faith
  • Identity

Population and migration

The global population has been characterised by phenomenal growth in the last 50 years approximately doubling in size.  It is projected that the UK population, currently approximately 63.7 million will reach 73.3 million by mid 2037, a total increase of 9.6 million or 13% over 25 years.

The reason behind this increase is three fold: the assumed number of births; the overall increase in the longevity of life (which in combination account for the natural increase); and net migration.

The UK also has relatively high internal migration, which changes the distribution of that society, with 2.9 million people moving between local authority regions in the year ending June 2012.

Demographic profile

The demographic profile of England also continues to change, resulting directly from these global and national changes. Demographics change but within the UK there are some identifiable trends; the age profile of the population; health; and the ethnic diversity of the population.

By 2020 one fifth of the UK's population will be over 65 and by 2037 the number of people over 80 in the UK will have doubled, resulting in 1 in 12 people being over 80.

England continues to get steadily more ethnically diverse. In 2001, 7.9% of the population comprised ethnic minorities. This figure had risen to 14% by 2011. Although often perceived as an inner-city phenomenon, internal migration in the suburbs now attracts a higher than average proportion of residents from outside the UK, as well as being the focus of ethnically varied internal migration patterns. 

There are over eleven million people with a limiting long term illness, impairment or disability in Great Britain and the most commonly-reported impairments are those that affect mobility, lifting or carrying.

Research has shown that people with disabilities are less likely to visit cultural sites and take part in leisure and sporting activities than non-Disabled people, though the number are steadily rising and hopefully will continue to do so.

The Taking Part survey collects data on many aspects of leisure, culture and sport in England, as well as an in-depth range of socio-demographic information on respondents.  It is led by the Department of Culture Media and Sport and with its three partners the Arts Council, historic England and Sport England.

Faith communities

Part of the increasing diversity of England is witnessed through the profile of faith communities. The 20th century has seen unparalleled changes in the breadth of faiths adhered to in England.

The 2011 census data provides evidence of significant shifts in religion and belief. The religious profile of England is complex, not just because of its variety of faiths and adherents but by its very nature, at once showing signs of increasing secularism, pluralism and religiosity.

Understanding the heritage of faith and commemoration is an important aspect of Historic England's work.


The trends above represent some key factors that contribute to people's sense of identity. However identity might be significantly affected by other factors such as nationality, sexual orientation, family, interests and hobbies, gender, level of education, wealth and employment.

Inter-mingled with place-based and cultural affiliations these relate to who we are and what values we ascribe to wher we live.  It follows therefore that they are also intimately connected to our relationship with the historic environment. 

Understanding trends and issues in this area is therefore fundamental to the future of the historic environment.  It is also important that the heritage we protect is relevant to diverse communities. 

Find out about Disability in Time and Place which reveals how disabled peoples' lives are integral to the heritage all around us. 

Find out about the debate concerning the Faro Convention, which advocates for a democratisation of heritage here. Although the UK is not a signatory  recent work in Sweden by the Swedish National Heritage Board provides a good synopsis of the Convention and how it relates to heritage values. This report was translated into English by Ingrid Greenhow and funded by Historic England.