What Does 'Heritage' Mean To You?

MORI Poll Reveals Overwhelming Support For The Historic Environment

What Does 'Heritage' Mean To You?

MORI Poll Reveals Overwhelming Support For The Historic Environment

Almost everyone feels that the historic environment plays an important role in the life of the country. Above all people think that the historic environment is vital to educate children and adults about England's past. The great majority of people believe that public funds should be used to preserve historic buildings. Three-quarters agree that it is important to preserve the best modern buildings as well as the old. 51% of the population visited a historic attraction last year compared with 50% visiting the cinema and 17% attending a football match. More than half say they are as interested in learning about other people's cultures as their own.

These are some of the findings of a MORI survey published today (Tuesday 26th September) which reveals for the first time what 'heritage' means to all sectors of society. It includes the first ever national survey of the attitudes of black and Asian communities to England's heritage and will be used by English Heritage to define the action needed, from the Government and heritage bodies amongst others, to make the historic environment more relevant and accessible to more people, and to identify priorities for future policies to preserve and enhance these valuable and vulnerable assets.

The research was commissioned by English Heritage as part of a comprehensive review of government policies for the historic environment. This report, which English Heritage has been asked to lead on behalf of the entire historic environment sector, will be presented to the Government at the end of November. The review covers every aspect of the historic environment from castles, monuments, stately homes and archaeological sites to the inner cities, market towns and rural villages in which we live, the buildings in which we work, our parks and gardens and countryside. The review provides an unprecedented opportunity to focus on attitudes toward heritage policy, to stimulate national debate about the importance of the environment to quality of life and, as a result, to create an integrated approach to managing the historic environment for the next century.

Sir Neil Cossons, Chairman of English Heritage, said: "We are delighted by the overwhelming support for the historic environment that this research reveals. There is a strong feeling, perhaps a moral obligation people feel, that heritage should be preserved to be passed on to future generations. Most encouraging was to discover that, above all, people think the heritage is important to education. 96% see it as a means of providing both children and adults with an understanding of their history and identity. This has serious implications for the way England's history and geography are taught in the national curriculum and for the access and information provided by ourselves and other heritage bodies - not just about nationally important attractions but also about our everyday built environment."

"The challenge for us in drawing up the Historic Environment Review is to reflect this overwhelming support and interest in visionary and practical proposals for future policy."

Key points to emerge from the MORI survey are:

  • 98% think the heritage is important to educate children about the past and that all schoolchildren should be given the opportunity to find out about England's heritage;
  • 96% think the heritage is important to educate adults about the past;
  • 95% think heritage is important for providing places to visit and thing to see and do, for encouraging tourists to visit, (93%), and for creating jobs and boosting the economy, (88%);
  • 88% agree that it is right that there should be public funding to preserve the heritage;
  • 76% disagree that we already preserve too much;
  • 76% agree that their lives are enriched by the heritage; and
  • 46% think that Black and 45% think that Asian heritage is not adequately represented.

For some people, particularly from ethnic minority groups, England's country houses and ancient monuments mean little. They want more to be done to make England's historic environment accessible to them through information, more inclusive interpretation and education. It emerged from the poll that everyone has a very personal view of what represents their heritage, and that most people value both nationally important attractions and key elements of their own localities.

Only 2% said they had no interest in the heritage whatsoever. The 14% who had not visited any historic sites in the last year cited lack of time and interest and feeling unwelcome. The research pointed up a need to raise awareness of the role of local streets and buildings as well as nationally important buildings and monuments in creating a high quality environment and promoting economic and social regeneration in towns and cities and in the countryside.

The poll indicates that the nation's assumed traditional dislike of modern architecture no longer exists. Most people disagreed with the statement that anything after 1950 does not count as heritage and felt it important to preserve modern buildings for future generations. Support for modern architecture has undergone an astonishing 10 percentage points rise to 76% since an English Heritage/MORI poll on this subject three years ago.

Today's poll shows that 51% of the population have made special trips to historic palaces, houses, gardens, castles and monuments in the last year. The figure rises to 58% if museums are included.

Professor Sir Robert Worcester, Chairman of MORI, said: "While the nation cares passionately for its heritage, 'the heritage' as it is currently perceived seems to lack relevance to a significant minority of the public, particularly those in ethnic minority groups. It also faces keen competition from other leisure interests which have multiplied as a result of the beneficence of the Lottery. I am delighted that the Report on the Historic Environment to be published in November will advocate ways in which the heritage can become more relevant, more useful, more accessible and provide a good quality experience for all."

Technical details

  1. Copies of the MORI survey 'Attitudes toward the Heritage' are available on the English Heritage web site www.english-heritage.org.uk[Policy > Government Reviews > MORI Research]
  2. The research was conducted in May-June 2000 and involved four distinct approaches:
    • omnibus survey research among residents in England;
    • a face-to-face quantitative survey of residents in England;
    • a series of three focus groups, among specifically invited audiences drawn from ethnic minority groups; and
    • analysis of data contained in MORI's Socioconsult Monitor.

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