Researching the value of heritage

At the Heritage Lottery Fund we commission a range of research which falls into three main areas; research to evaluate the impact and lessons learnt from our work; strategic research to understand the future of the sector and research to examine the value of heritage.

In one of our latest research studies, we focused on the impact of our largest grants – those of £5million or more. One hundred and seventy-three of these ‘Major Grants’ have now been made, and the first 100 of them are complete. Many have been finished for a decade or longer, giving us the opportunity to review the long-term, sustained benefits that have been achieved. Key findings include:

  • 94 million visits are made each year as a result of these Major Grants – (a 130% rise). The biggest increases in visits were from families and young people

  • Local tourism businesses are receiving an extra £480m in revenue as a result of increased visits - creating an extra 9,600 new jobs

  • In addition, HLF funding created 2,536 new jobs within 46 of the funded organisations

  • 49 organisations extended their work with schools. as a result of their Major Grant, and 58 new education spaces – such as classrooms, lecture theatres and training rooms – have been created

  • 54 organisations increased the number of volunteers they work with

To see the full findings go to our website:

If you come across or are conducting interesting research please share it! In particular we would love to hear some of the findings from your own research and project evaluations.

Submitted by Amy Freeborn (not verified) on Fri, 10/09/2015 - 15:14


20 Years in 12 Places in another example of research showing the 'value' of heritage. It found that the heritage makes us happier about where we live, and that it can help shape and improve quality of life.

The research looked at 12 locations across the UK, and through surveys and workshops, we asked people to think about heritage and the projects HLF has supported in their local areas. 

We found that: 

  • 93% of people see heritage as important to ‘the country’
  • 81% see heritage as important to ‘me personally’
  • 80% say local heritage makes their area a better place to live
  • 64% think local heritage has got better while they have lived in the area
  • 76% of Lottery players rate the HLF-funded projects in their area as good or excellent value for money

I'm sure those running HLF-supported projects have similar views, and have probably received - even if it's just anecdotal - feedback to that extent.

It would be great if you could share below any quotes or other stories they've heard from people who've enjoyed and got a benefit from your heritage project.

Submitted by (not verified) on Tue, 10/13/2015 - 12:08


I manage HLF’s First World War Centenary activity, which we are evaluating from 2014 to 2019. There are more than 1,000 Centenary projects underway across the UK and we want to understand what impact they’re having individually and perhaps most excitingly, as a collection.

The evaluation started last year and involved surveys of project managers and project participants, as well as a number of case studies.

As part of this work, we are really encouraging all the First World War Centenary projects we’re funding to evaluate what they’re doing. Our guidance on Evaluating your First World War Centenary project talks through the key steps involved in evaluation, and shows how you can collect data which will help show a picture of Centenary activity across the UK.

You can see the first year report on our website. It’s really interesting to see what type of activity is happening across the UK, what themes people are interested in, and what people are getting out of being involved. For example, we found out that over 95% of First World War projects are involving volunteers.

For me though, it’s the individuals’ experiences that really bring the evaluation to life. Here’s what one young participant said about her experience of being involved in a project:

“I just came three years ago to England so I had no idea about the history of the war and I had no idea that parts of Asia were involved in the war. Before I was involved with this I was really shy and I just wanted to be more confident; this is helping me a lot for the future.”

This quote shows that projects are helping people find out about some of the less well-known stories of the war, which is one of our main aims at HLF. It also shows the enormous personal benefits gained from taking part in a heritage project. 

If you are running a First World War Centenary project and want to know more about how to evaluate it, please read our Evaluation guidance. You can also get help from Sheffield Hallam University, using the contact details at the back of the guidance.

Submitted by (not verified) on Thu, 10/15/2015 - 20:06


Does anyone know any HLF projects that have used a Social Return on Investment (SROI) approach as part of their project evaluation? Is is something we are considering for our project and just looking for examples of where this might have been done before? Thanks

Submitted by amelia.robinso… (not verified) on Fri, 10/16/2015 - 15:13


One Heritage Lottery Fund project that is doing a Social Return on Investment as part of its evaluation is Inspiring Futures: Volunteering for wellbeing 2013-2016. This is a project done in partnership by the Manchester Museum and the Imperial War Museum North alongside other partners to support participants into volunteering and away from social and economic isolation.

The first year findings estimate that solely within year 1, without accounting for future longitudinal benefit periods for stakeholders, the programme has already generated added social and economic value between £278,000-£310,000. More on the research can be found here:

Submitted by lauren.souter@… (not verified) on Mon, 11/02/2015 - 16:45


I am an audience advocate at the Science Museum and have recently finished working on the summative evaluation of our HLF funded Information Age gallery. Information Age is an object rich permanent gallery, which tells the story of how information and communication technologies have transformed our lives over the last 200 years. One of the principle aims of the summative evaluation was to explore the extent to which our visitors engage with an object rich space and their response to the display and interpretation of our historical collections.

The research identified some key successes for the Information Age project across 4 different areas – the overall gallery experience, the learning resources for school groups, the co-created exhibits and the access offer:

  • Interpreting objects through stories of people; inventors, operators and users was very popular and conferred meaning and relevance onto the collection, bringing the objects to life for the audience.
  • Learning resources based upon creative tasks made the gallery feel interactive and dynamic for students and helped them to engage with the collection by giving them a sense of purpose. 
  • Visitors reported the co-created outputs in the gallery to be rich in personal experiences, human stories and a diverse range of perspectives making the interpretation of the collection feel inclusive, representative and diverse.
  • Overall visitors with disabilities found the Information Age gallery highly accessible, many describing it as the most accessible gallery or exhibition they have ever experienced primarily due to the range of multi-sensory resources.

The research also identified some important lessons learned in these areas for the museum:

  • Information Age contains over 800 objects. This is a lot for visitors to take in on their visit. They tended to skim the gallery looking for objects which caught their attention. This would act as the starting point for their engagement with the interpretation meaning, often, they entered a story half way through. As such they struggled to engage with some of the deeper messages of the gallery.
  • Some of the gallery messages were not always accessible for students. Teachers, felt there needed to be more flexibility within the resources - KS3 – 4 is a particularly difficult audience to cater for, as prior knowledge and skills vary greatly within the age range.
  • Due to the lack of differentiation between the co-created outputs and museum-led interpretation, visitors weren’t always able to pick out the co-created outputs. Visitors wanted to be told when content had been co-developed as, they said, it added authenticity, value and rigour to the information being communicated.
  • The amount and quality of accessible resources demonstrated to visitors the gallery’s agenda for access, however, for full inclusion visitors with varying needs requested greater representation of people with disabilities within the gallery stories.

We are now working to build on the above successes whilst thinking carefully about how to act on the challenges and lessons learned by the evaluation in the development of new gallery and exhibition projects.

If anyone is interested in more detail from this research let me know. I would be interested in finding out how others have identified and are applying lessons learned from research and evaluation of object rich spaces.