River Wear in Sunderland
River Wear in Sunderland © Historic England
River Wear in Sunderland © Historic England

Can Heritage Improve the Wellbeing of People in Sunderland?

A pioneering new study has been launched in Sunderland to discover whether improving local heritage has a positive effect on the wellbeing of people that live in the area.

‘Wellbeing’ is a term used to describe to a person’s quality of life; their positive physical and mental health.

Historic England has commissioned Newcastle-based research consultancy ERS Ltd to assess the impact of the Sunderland Heritage Action Zone Initiative on local residents and to better understand the relationship between people’s wellbeing and the character of their local area.

Launched in 2017 by Historic England and Sunderland Council, the Heritage Action Zone is reviving the historic high streets of Sunderland focussing on Fawcett Street, Church Street, High Street East and High Street West. There is a wealth of historic buildings in this area but many have fallen into disrepair and disuse. By funding repairs, finding new uses for empty buildings and engaging the community, the initiative aims to act as a catalyst for economic growth.

Over the next three years ERS Ltd will engage with the people who live, work and go to school in the area, focussing on how improvements to their local historic buildings are affecting them.

The study aims to understand the difference being made by the Heritage Action Zone in terms of what people think about the area, their sense of belonging and the pride they feel about where they live.

There is lots of evidence to suggest that heritage is good for wellbeing in a number of ways such as going to visitor attractions and volunteering in local history projects. But this is the first time we will be exploring what effect local heritage has on residents.

Over the next three years we will be able to build up a picture of how people feel about their neighbourhood and how this might change as the area changes.

The study will be led by residents so we can really see things from their perspective. It also will help us learn how to build on our successes in Heritage Action Zones in the future by seeking new ways of increasing public participation.

Linda Monckton, Head of Wellbeing and Inclusion Strategy, Historic England

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