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Explore Britain’s Heritage – new maps bring over 100 datasets to life

I've been leading the RSA's work over the last six months to answer a deceptively simple question: where in England has the most heritage? 

Interactive maps highlight the real heritage hot-spots across the country © RSA

To do this we have brought together over 100 datasets. We take a broad view of heritage - not just looking at the obvious assets like castles, palaces and museums, but we've included the things that really bring heritage to life at a local scale: blue plaques, volunteering, kids who belong to archaeology clubs, adults who go birdwatching, historic businesses (trading continuously for 75 years+) and protected status for food and drink products like Cornish Pasties and Cumberland sausage.

We've crunched the numbers and mapped all of this on a bunch of interactive online maps. This allows the public to see the DNA of local heritage for England’s 325 council areas - what makes a place unique and distinct?

Of course, we asked Heritage Open Days if we could use their data, since this is a key heritage activity up and down the country. We figure that places with a high number of Heritage Open Days should contribute to a high score on the Heritage Index, since open days really bring local history to life. We adjust our figures on a per person basis, and we’ve broken down our heritage maps so that you can browse how a place performs just looking at one aspect of heritage – like industrial heritage or cultures and memories.

Why are we doing this? We think that heritage is the USP of a place, but are concerned that community groups, civic leaders and local councils don’t always know how to tap into that? We designed the Heritage Index to be a useful resource which can help shape a strong, cohesive local identity. Having all the information in one easy to digest map should help people contemplating strategies, resources, funding and priorities in a local area to make better informed decisions.

This is where we anticipate the research being used: it's a single portal onto databases which previously sat 'down the back of the sofa' of the Internet, like data on every single archaeological find, quietly being collected by the British Museum.

You can learn all about the Heritage Index at www.thersa.org/heritage. You might find some big surprises:

  • While City of London comes top, among major English cities, Portsmouth and Liverpool outscore all other cities. 
  • Places on the coast do particularly well and we assess that natural heritage assets often go under-appreciated. 
  • Because we take into account all that data on heritage activities - things people do, getting involved - Norwich (9th overall) and Scarborough (3rd) are the surprising star performers. 
  • We point to the areas with the greatest potential to use their heritage assets to drive heritage activity - including Southend, Tower Hamlets, Newham and Islington.

Our main analytical finding is that if you correlate our data against ONS well-being data, you find that there is a positive correlation with heritage activities, but not heritage assets. Having a beautiful building in the town centre doesn't seem to ultimately result in a meaningful difference in well-being. Volunteering to help out at your local nature reserve does.

So over the next year, you should get involved in your heritage – and make the most of wonderful activities like Heritage Open Days. It’ll be good for you.