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Heritage gives places a unique identity and local pride - but some areas with rich heritage assets are missing out because local activity is lagging far behind where it could be, according to the new 2016 RSA Heritage Index, published today.

Produced in collaboration with the Heritage Lottery Fund, the annual index combines over 120 metrics, from historic buildings to local delicacies, revealing which local areas are best at using heritage to foster a distinctive identity – and which could do better.

Analysis of this year’s index reveals that places which do most with their heritage have a higher quality of life (ONS well-being measures) than areas which have low levels of activity. As well as inherited physical assets such as battlefields and castles, the index measures new forms of heritage activity like community initiatives and volunteering.

After launching last year, the index has since been adopted as an official performance measure by the government in the recent Culture White Paper.

Amongst England’s 325 local authorities, the main findings of the 2016 Heritage Index are:

  • Westminster and West Somerset join the top five, alongside the City of London, which remains in the top spot.
  • But less predictable areas have also prospered. New data added to the Index reflects the strength of industrial and maritime heritage. Gosport and Weymouth & Portland are newcomers to the top 10, and Southampton is amongst the highest climbers overall. Gosport is home to 11 historic ships and 18 shipwrecks off the coast; Weymouth is part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site.
  • The Heritage Index is calculated by combining data on heritage assets and heritage activities. The top spots for heritage activity are outside the capital: Scarborough, South Lakeland (Cumbria) and Norwich occupy the top three positions, with East Lindsey (Lincs.) entering the top 10 for activities. This reflects high rates of volunteering, community groups and visits by the public to heritage sites. It also includes investment in heritage by HLF and local councils.
  • After taking action in response to the 2015 index (see below), Warrington is no longer at the foot of the asset index, replaced this year by Milton Keynes, North Kesteven (Lincs.), and, in 325th place, Luton.
  • But some areas still have surprisingly low levels of heritage activity given their numerous assets. These “high potential” areas include Castle Point and Rochford on the Essex Coast, and Epsom in Surrey.
  • The government’s cultural strategy for England focuses on measuring places with year-on-year improvement in heritage activities per asset. Star performers here are (in order of greatest improvement): Kingston-upon-Thames, Eastleigh, Wycombe, Stroud, Stafford, Southend, Maidstone, Thurrock and Bromsgrove.

In Scotland, the Orkney Islands take first place in the overall Index, whilst Gwynedd, home to Snowdonia National Park, is at the top of the Welsh Index.

New measures have been added for 2016 to expand the definition of local heritage:

  • The Conwy mussel joins the Melton Mowbray pork pie and the Cornish pasty on the list of protected local foods, boosting heritage scores for North Wales in the process.
  • And for the first time, the Index includes everything protected under the government’s new community rights – adding over a thousand pubs and everything from duck ponds to allotments as Assets of Community Value.
  • The index now includes data from the Woodland Trust on 140,000 ancient trees across the UK, from Historic England on 6,000 shipwrecks off the coast, and data from the National Trust’s detailing 355 square miles of open access land in England.
  • This builds on the broad range of data in the 2015 Index, including over 10,000 Blue Plaques and over 80,000 artefacts that the public have uploaded into the online local archive Historypin.
  • Over 6,000 historic local businesses feature in the Index after an analysis of the entire Companies House register, including shops, restaurants and cinemas which have traded continuously since before 1940.

The Index also shows there is no link between heritage and deprivation or prosperity. Hastings and Barrow-in-Furness (Cumbria) are in the top 20 in the Heritage Index, despite being among the 30 most deprived local authorities in England. Comparatively well-off areas like Wokingham and South Cambridgeshire occupy low places in the Index.

The RSA’s heritage research has found that devolution from central government to local government and city-regions means local distinctiveness is more important than ever. At a time of competition for talent and investment, place identity, which heritage creates, is at a premium. The RSA identified five “Networked Heritage” principles, which will enable places to better use heritage to differentiate themselves:

  • Start with people: Embed heritage in the routine of people's daily life.
  • Heritage is what you choose to make it: Use assets in new ways and identify new assets.
  • Go beyond yesterday's battles: Make an offer, rather than an ask.
  • Open up and lead change: Think critically about power and leadership.
  • Make heritage your local USP: Go beyond a strategy for heritage, inform the strategy for place.

Commenting on the 2016 Heritage Index, Matthew Taylor, RSA Chief Executive, said:

“Devolution means heritage is more critical than ever to the success of individual places – but in many parts of the country, it is still underappreciated and even ignored.

“At its best, a proper understanding of heritage – which goes beyond protecting history – fuels passion, pride and a unique place identity. This year’s RSA Heritage Index shows how some localities have grasped the opportunity heritage provides.

“The challenge for other places – and for the heritage sector in general – is to learn from communities already leading the charge in other parts of the country.”

Ros Kerslake, Chief Executive of the Heritage Lottery Fund, said::

“Heritage is at the heart of what makes a place distinctive. The Heritage Index is a vital tool which is helping communities to better understand that heritage and tap into its vast potential.” 

The author of the 2016 Heritage Index, RSA Associate Director, Jonathan Schifferes said:

“The RSA Heritage Index is a bid to bring together the amazing range of heritage data, but which local communities might find hard to access or evaluate – and in many cases won’t even know exist.

“It enables places to understand their relative strengths and weaknesses across the broadest range of heritage measures, helping places make decisions about where to focus their efforts to reflect what is distinctive.

“Our wider research shows that heritage and identity are intimately linked, but these links are strongest where the public are involved in heritage as volunteers and activists, and where strong networks reinforce the value of these contributions – we call this ‘networked heritage’.”



Notes to Editors

Overall Top 10

Assets Top 10

Activity Top 10

  1. City of London
  2. Kensington and Chelsea
  3. Westminster
  4. Scarborough
  5. West Somerset
  6. South Lakeland
  7. Gosport
  8. Oxford
  9. Norwich
  10. Weymouth and Portland
  1. City of London
  2. Gosport
  3. Kensington and Chelsea
  4. Oxford
  5. Hastings
  6. Barrow-in-Furness
  7. Southend-on-Sea
  8. Portsmouth
  9. Westminster
  10. Weymouth and Portland
  1. Scarborough
  2. South Lakeland
  3. Norwich
  4. West Dorset
  5. Eden
  6. East Lindsey
  7. Westminster
  8. Cambridge
  9. Derbyshire Dales
  10. Herefordshire, County of




Overall Bottom 10

Assets Bottom 10

Activity Bottom 10





St. Helens

Nuneaton and Bedworth




Luton (325th)


St. Helens


Cheshire East


South Kesteven

West Lindsey

Milton Keynes

North Kesteven

Luton (325th)









South Staffordshire

Nuneaton and Bedworth (325th)






Highest potential

(high number of assets, but low activity)

High activity per asset

Castle Point


Barrow in Furness

Epsom and Ewell






Tower Hamlets

West Lindsey


East Lindsey



South Kesteven



Cheshire West and Chester






Most improved

(increase in heritage activities relative to heritage assets, since 2015)


Taunton Deane

West Lindsey



Kingston upon Thames

Mid Suffolk


North Tyneside




Interactive Maps

The Heritage Index results have been visualised in a series of map for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. These maps are freely available to the press to embed easily on most web pages: 

Download all the source data

Visit find out exactly how many listed buildings, World Heritage Sites, blue plaques, historic ships and ancient trees and heritage volunteer groups there are in each local district. Note, all data is calculated on a per person per square mile basis.

Case study: Warrington

After coming bottom of the Heritage Index for assets in 2015, Cllr Tony Higgins, executive member of culture, leisure and communities at Warrington Borough Council, said:

“Everybody who lives and works in Warrington knows we have a cultural and heritage offer that grows stronger by the day. It’s fantastic that this is reflected in this year’s RSA Heritage Index.

“Over the last year we have worked closely with our partners, Culture Warrington to develop an active programme of events and activities which highlight our heritage and culture. This has included working with organisations across Warrington to expand our Heritage Open Days, opening up 11 historic venues across the town for residents to explore. 

“We have also supported the publishing of a new book which highlights 50 of Warrington’s iconic buildings and we are looking to identify funding for people to nominate other buildings in Warrington which could be celebrated.

“2017 is set to be very exciting for Warrington, as we celebrate our 170th anniversary with a range of special events, including a Heritage Matters Conference. We can take the confidence gained from our new index placing into next year and continue to build on it in the future.”

Additional case studies are available at

Quality of life

Comparing the RSA’s analysis with ONS statistics on well-being, in areas which scored highly for activity (rather than assets) in the Heritage Index, residents on average tended to report higher levels of well-being.

About the RSA

The RSA aims to enrich society through ideas and action. We believe that all human beings have creative capacities that can be mobilised to deliver a 21st century enlightenment. We work to bring about the conditions for this change, not just amongst our diverse Fellowship, but also in institutions and communities. Our work ranges from the future of our cities and communities, to education, moving towards a more creative economy and the redesign of public services @theRSAorg

About Heritage Lottery Fund

Thanks to National Lottery players, we invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about - from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. @heritagelottery

Explore the 2016 Heritage Index


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