Photo of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, Southwark
Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, Southwark © Historic England AA034525
Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, Southwark © Historic England AA034525

2011 – Historic Environment and Big Society

Heritage Counts 2011 looked at the historic environment and its place within communities, how it brings people together and acts as a catalyst for involvement in shaping local areas. It also highlighted the lasting importance of non-state organisations in maintaining and promoting the historic environment.

Key Findings included:

  • The historic environment fosters a vision for an area and helps shape communities
  • The historic environment provides the context or means by which local people can take an active role in their local area - turning a place into a community
  • The benefits of involvement in the historic environment are wide-ranging, with the potential to improve people's confidence and skills
  • Involvement in the local historic environment is greater among some groups than others.
  • Diversifying and increasing this involvement will benefit local heritage and help strengthen civil society
  • To increase and widen the ongoing involvement of communities in their local historic environment requires changes to the existing offer.

Three pieces of research were commissioned for Heritage Counts 2011.

Two projects from Civic Voice and The Heritage Alliance look at current activities undertaken by organisations and groups working within the historic environment to help strengthen communities, shape local areas, and maintain our historic places.

The third project looked at the barriers to ongoing community involvement in local heritage issues and the potential solutions for increasing engagement. The result of this work was a helpful online checklist which local heritage and community organisations can use to strengthen links to the wider community.

You will find details and downloads for all of this research below.

Civic societies and volunteers

Civic Voice undertook an online survey exploring the activities and responsibilities of civic volunteers and societies and their ongoing support needs. These organisations will be an increasingly important source for community involvement as the Government's planning reforms bed in.

Key findings included:

  • 96% have written to their local authority
  • 85% of civic societies have responded to planning applications in the last 12 months
  • 73% have organised lectures and public events


  • Only 14% of existing members are active volunteers
  • Five out of six members are over the age of 55

Civic Voice and the wider heritage sector are actively using these results to help ensure that civic societies are effectively supported going forward.

The results from the survey can be downloaded below:

Heritage organisations and civic society

The Heritage Alliance undertook a survey of its members to understand further the importance and position of the historic environment and its organisations within civic society.

The results are being used by The Heritage Alliance to help develop their forward strategy.

Key results include:

  • 48% offer outreach or community services which educate people about the historic environment
  • 46% provide advice and guidance for local groups on planning issues
    One in four provide advice to local groups managing local assets or services

The Heritage Alliance research reports:

Increasing community involvement in heritage

We know that the historic environment is a successful mechanism for getting people involved in local issues.  However we also know that more could be done to increase and widen community involvement in heritage.

This research was based on focus groups in Leeds and Leicester which looked at the motivations for and barriers to people's involvement in local heritage. A summary of the findings is available in the ‘Heritage Counts 2011’ report and also here:

The results contributed to a checklist which local community and heritage groups can use to attract more and diverse participants to their group or cause.

The Local Checklist

There are no right or wrong solutions for getting more people involved in heritage issues, but there are general principles which can help organisations increase active membership or volunteer numbers, for example by offering:

  • Opportunities which are local and immediate
  • Flexible in terms of amount of commitment required and when it is required
  • Personal incentives. 'Making a difference' is often a secondary reason for people getting involved, people get involved because they want to have fun, meet people or get out the house

Most importantly, people need to be invited to get involved, and preferably by someone they know.

If you are a community or heritage group looking to increase active membership and community involvement, this checklist might be useful for you.

The checklist can be used by groups to work through the issues they face in attracting new participants and come up with solutions which work for them in their local area.

A summary of the research is included in the national ‘Heritage Counts 2011’ report, and you can download the checklist below. It is available as a PowerPoint presentation to run through in a group meeting or as a PDF document.

Case studies

The historic environment is fully engaged with the key themes of the Big Society agenda:

  • Social Action - People getting involved in playing an active role in society. This can, for example, include restoring a historic building or getting engaged in a local planning issue. Participation can range from volunteering, donating money and membership of local groups and organisations.
  • Community Empowerment - Local people being empowered to shape their area. This can range from the heritage sector offering advice and guidance to groups involved in neighbourhood development plans, to providing advice to amenity societies on widening community involvement.
  • Opening up Public Services - Ways in which the heritage sector is helping to deliver public services, or supporting others in doing so. This includes guidance offered to local groups involved in asset transfer, and the voluntary sector getting involved in supporting the delivery of local historic environment services.

Examples of how the historic environment contributes to these have been submitted from organisations across the heritage sector, covering a range of achievements and lessons learnt. New case studies will be added over time.

Heritage Counts