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How can places make the most of their heritage? Jonathan Schifferes introduces the 2016 Heritage Index, a collaboration with the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Last year we set out to answer a difficult question, using a data-led approach.

Our research has shown that heritage is a key resource to connect people to places. Strengthening that connection brings to places as host of other social and economic benefits. So the next logical question is how much of this resource do we have locally?

Today we release our updated Heritage Index. The scale and breadth of what our team has pulled together is astounding, covering 120 indicators, with local data available for all 390 local authority areas in the UK’s four nations. We want people to give people a richer understanding of their place, so that they are inspired to get involved in shaping their place into the future.

wales heritage index 2016

Heritage Index 2016 covers 120 indicators and draws upon local data available for all 390 local authority areas in the UK’s four nations

You’ll be inspired by some of the less famous places in the Top 10 (including Scarborough, Gosport and Norwich), but look closer to home and you’ll discover the heritage on your doorstep, including industrial heritage, natural heritage and cultures and memories. Once you explore the maps and data, you’ll never think of heritage in the same way again.

In summer 2015 we first set out to measure the strength of heritage at the local level. We started to organise existing data covering both heritage assets (material and tangible stuff like buildings and nature reserves) and heritage activities (things like volunteering, investment and community initiatives). We’ve take a broad and inclusive view of how you measure heritage. We’ve combined data on the UK’s 10,000 blue plaques, through to size of ancient woodland and the number of local foods with protected naming status (like Cornish pasties).

In short, we wanted to reflect in our data what we were hearing at our workshops and events up and down the UK – heritage is a matter not just of what you have but what you do with it, and it’s up to citizens to decide: heritage is what you choose to make it.

Since our first Heritage Index was released last year, we’ve been amazed by how people have responded.

  • Over 50,000 people have browsed our maps to see how their area performs.
  • Over 1,000 people have downloaded the raw data for themselves, using it for their neighbourhood plan, for funding applications or to teach young people about the local area. 
  • We’ve been to dozens of towns and cities, speaking at events organised by our network of RSA Heritage Ambassadors. And since March the Heritage Index has been adopted as an official performance measure in England, through the government’s recent Culture White Paper.

Heritage Index Scotland 2016

This year, the Heritage Index is bigger and better. We’ve got new data from the Woodland Trust on 140,000 ancient trees across the UK; 65,000 war memorials documented by the Imperial War Museum; 6,000 shipwrecks off the coast compiled by Historic England; and data from the National Trust detailing 400 square miles of open access land. And, importantly, we’ve got an up to date picture on heritage activities at the local scale – from thousands of Heritage Open Days, through to clubs and groups for young people to enjoy wildlife and appreciate archaeology.

Heritage and identity are intimately linked, and our research shows this link is strongest in places where the public contribute and lead. It is through strong networks – what we call ‘networked heritage’ that the value of these contributions is maximised.

The Heritage Index is a tool to explore place. It has brought people together and strengthened networks. Let us know how your place uses it to plan for the future.

Explore the 2016 Heritage Index


Top 10 Heritage places - overall





1. City of London

1. Belfast


1. Orkney Islands



1. Gwynedd

2. Kensington and Chelsea

2. Ards and North Down


2. Dundee City

2. Monmouthshire


3. Westminster


3. Newry, Mourne and Down

3. Eilean Siar

3. Powys


4. Scarborough

4. Causeway Coast and Glens

4. Shetland Islands


4. Ceredigion


5. West Somerset

5. Fermanagh and Omagh

5. City of Edinburgh

5. Cardiff


6. South Lakeland

6. Mid Ulster

6. Argyll and Bute


6. Conwy


7. Gosport


7. Lisburn and Castlereagh

7. East Lothian

7. Pembrokeshire


8. Oxford


8. Mid and East Antrim



8. Denbighshire


9. Norwich

9. Antrim and Newtownabbey

9. Stirling

9. Merthyr Tydfil


10. Weymouth and Portland

10. Derry City and Strabane

10. Highland


10. Isle of Anglesey





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