Five people in high-visibility clothing and helmets constructing a Neolithic-style hut.
Volunteers construct new Neolithic-style huts at Stonehenge Visitor Centre. © Historic England Archive. DP163587.
Volunteers construct new Neolithic-style huts at Stonehenge Visitor Centre. © Historic England Archive. DP163587.

The Benefits of Heritage Volunteering

Part of the Heritage Counts series. 4.5 minute read.

The heritage sector has a tradition of working with and supporting volunteers who play an important role in protecting and championing heritage. According to the Community Life Survey, in 2021/22, 5% of adults who reported having volunteered in the past 12 months (just over half a million people in England) did so in the heritage sector (DCMS, 2022).

Volunteering in the heritage sector can have a positive impact on people’s wellbeing by reducing symptoms of mental health conditions, improving life satisfaction, contributing to skills and personal development, and strengthening social networks. Read on for more detail on these benefits.

Heritage volunteers experience improvements in mental wellbeing

  • Inspiring Futures, a volunteering programme delivered at 10 heritage venues, led to improved quality of life and life satisfaction amongst participants. Over 75% reported a significant increase in wellbeing after a year whilst almost 60% reported long-term sustained wellbeing improvement over 2 to 3 years (Envoy Partnership, 2017)

A sense of connection, enrichment, and contribution to other people and their stories appeared to be a major differentiator of heritage volunteering.

The Inspiring Futures project evaluation feedback (Envoy Partnership, 2020, p.20)
  • In a study looking at the wellbeing impacts of different types of heritage engagement (tangible, intangible, digital and volunteering), volunteering was found to be the most rewarding in terms of improvements to life satisfaction. The study used data from a representative sample of the population of the 28 members of the European Union in 2017 collected in the Eurobarometer (Ateca-Amestoy et al, 2021)
  • A mixed methods study commissioned by Historic England and carried out by the University of Lincoln (Lewis et al, 2022b) concluded that volunteering in Heritage at Risk (HAR) projects is associated with a range of wellbeing outcomes. The authors explain that these are made possible by the specific and unique opportunities offered by the heritage and ‘at risk’ components. The ‘at risk’ element of the role, for example, enables volunteers to ‘give back’ to heritage, thus fostering positive feelings about rescuing something and leaving a legacy

Volunteering roles in the heritage sector offer people the opportunity to develop a range of skills

  • Researchers on the Community Archaeology in Rural Environments project found that participating in community archaeology strengthened a range of transferable skills. In post-project feedback, 70% agreed that the project developed team working skills and 68% agreed that their verbal communication had improved (Lewis et al, 2022a)
  • The ‘In touch training programme’, a cultural Heritage volunteering programme delivered by Manchester Museum and Imperial War Museum North, contributed to volunteer’s skillset, personal development and employability. 41% of volunteers took part in further learning on completion of the programme, whilst 18% moved on to employment (Manchester Museum et al, 2010)

Heritage volunteering supports the development of new social networks and friendships

  • Research by Power and Smyth (2016) found that participants reported high levels of social wellbeing as a result of their interaction with others who shared similar interests and new friendships they had made as a result of taking part. This was based on interviews with people who had been involved in community-based heritage conservation
  • 81% of heritage volunteers that took part in a cross-cultural museum sector study reported improvements in social connectivity. The study used qualitative evidence from a sample of 481 volunteers at 5 museums across 3 countries (Norway, Denmark and Sweden) in 2015 (Christidou and Hansen, 2015)
  • The Heritage Fund’s evaluation of volunteering projects found that the majority of the volunteers surveyed (over 90%) reported benefits from socialising with others, while 35% sustained friendships outside of the project (BOP Consulting, 2011)
  • In a survey of volunteers involved in Heritage at Risk projects, 49% said the experience made them feel more connected to others (21.6% extremely so) (Lewis et al, 2022b)


  1. Ateca-Amestoy, V.; Villarroya, A.; Wiesand, A.J. Heritage Engagement and Subjective Well-Being in the European Union. Sustainability 2021, 13, 9623. Available at: (Accessed 17.05.23).
  2. BOP Consulting (2011) ‘Assessment of the social impact of participation in HLF-funded projects: year 3 Final report.’ Available at:  (Accessed: 25.04.23)
  3. Christidou, D. and Hansen, A. (2015) ‘Volunteers in museums in Denmark, Sweden and Norway: a comparative report.’ Pride, Joy and Surplus Value, NCHLC, Östersund. Available at: Survey-rapport_final.pdf ( (Accessed 19.05.23).
  4. DCMS (2022) ‘Community Life Survey: Volunteering in the heritage sector, 2021/22.’ Available at: DCMS Community Life Survey: Ad-hoc statistical releases - GOV.UK ( (Accessed: 25.04.23)
  5. Envoy Partnership (2017) ‘Inspiring futures: Volunteering for Wellbeing, A Heritage Lottery Fund Project’ delivered by IWM North and Manchester Museum 2013 – 2016, Envoy Partnership, London. Available at:  (Accessed: 25.04.23)
  6. Everill, P., Bennett, R. and Burnell, K., 2020. Dig in: an evaluation of the role of archaeological fieldwork for the improved wellbeing of military veterans. Antiquity, 94(373), pp.212-227. Available at: (Accessed 19.05.23)
  7. Heritage Fund (2023) ‘UK Heritage Pulse Spotlight on Volunteering.’ Available at: Spotlight on: Volunteering - UK Heritage Pulse ( (Accessed: 25.04.23)
  8. Lawton, R. N., Gramatki, L., Watt, W., and Fujiwara, D. (2020) ‘Happy Days: Does volunteering make us happier or is it that happier people volunteer’ Journal of Happiness Studies: An Interdisciplinary Forum on Subjective Well-Being. Available at: (Accessed: 25.04.23)
  9. Lewis, C., et al (2022a) ‘Exploring the impact of participative place-based community archaeology in rural Europe: Community archaeology in rural environments meeting societal challenges.’ Journal of Community Archaeology & Heritage, 9:4, 267-286, Available at: 10.1080/20518196.2021.2014697 (Accessed: 25.04.23)
  10. Lewis, C., et al (2022b) ‘Wellbeing in Volunteers on Heritage at Risk Projects.’ Available at: WellbeinginVolunteersonHeritageatRiskProjects ( (Accessed: 25.04.23)
  11. Manchester Museum, Imperial War Museum North (2010) ‘InTouch Volunteer Program. An innovative skills and training programme at The Manchester Museum and Imperial War Museum North.’ London: Heritage Lottery Fund. Available at: Layout 1 ( (Accessed 19.05.23).
  12. Power, A. and Smyth, K., (2016) ‘Heritage, health and place: The legacies of local community-based heritage conservation on social wellbeing’. Health & Place, 39, pp.160-167. Available at: (Accessed: 21.02.23)