Heritage 2020 Working Groups:

Public Engagement

How to involve as many people as possible from all backgrounds in heritage.

The Public Engagement group is focusing on youth engagement and diversity as two particular opportunities to increase public engagement with the historic environment.

Youth engagement with the historic environment

We know from the 2017/18 DCMS ‘Taking Part’ survey that 72.8% of adults had visited at least one heritage site in the past year and from a range of other sources that significant numbers of primary school children and volunteers engage with heritage.

The Heritage 2020 Public Engagement working group has identified the 16-25 age group as under- represented in terms of engagement with heritage. It wants to bring about a culture change in how heritage and historic environment sector organisations approach youth engagement, and going forward, want to see a greater emphasis on involving young people in all aspects of heritage work. The group want to make what the sector does more transparent to young people from all backgrounds and demonstrate that heritage is relevant to their lives. To do this, it’s been mapping out the work that is already happening across the sector.  

The July 2018 #HeritageChat fed into this. It provided a forum for institutions and individuals to ‘pool learning from youth engagement projects’. Greater collaboration with the creative industries, the adoption of a shared authority approach and the role of interactive technologies were all raised as talking points. Moreover, lessons to be learnt from social action programmes and natural heritage were discussed, as well as where and when conversations between heritage institutions and young people should be happening. You can read a more detailed summary of the chat here.

The group hosted a follow on chat in October 2019, which explored why the 16-24-year-old age group are underrepresented in terms of engagement with heritage. Discussion points during the hour focused on what problems there are that impact upon a ‘heritage offer’ for 16-24-year olds, and whether low engagement could also be caused by perceptions of heritage among the age group. Participants also shared what has worked and been popular in their experience and ideas of what could increase engagement in the future. You can catch up on all the conversations that took place here.

The group is now focusing on how to bring together organisations with a strong track-record in youth engagement with heritage sector organisations. It plans to look at what’s been learnt through the ‘Kick the Dust’ programme as a starting point and identify the conditions for success for joint working between organisations in the two sectors. The goal is to transform how we encourage more dialogue and shared understanding between the varied interest groups in our communities.

  • HLF’s Kick the Dust programme– Twelve grants of between £500,000 and £1 million were awarded to heritage projects that specifically worked to involve more young people in heritage.

Community engagement with heritage

One of the Heritage 2020 Framework goals is to empower communities to become more actively engaged in the planning system as it affects the historic environment and to promoting people’s entitlement to connect with the historic environment.

A couple of our monthly Heritage Chats have explored ways in which communities can engage with aspects of the planning process and sector professionals.

Diversity and inclusion

A lack of diversity in the historic environment is a cross-sector issue that is a priority for all of our working groups. We, therefore, explored the topic at our 2017 Foresight meeting which brought together members from our working groups with the Historic Environment Forum to generate practical suggestions to address the issue through collaborative working.

Recommendations from the day were split into three strands; Data, Process and Perception (a summary of which can be found here). The Public Engagement working group are taking forward these recommendations, and they are currently bidding for funding for a project that will help improve diversity and inclusions practices in the historic environment sector.

The group ran a Heritage Chat, a year on from the Foresight session to explore the following questions:

  1. Is the issue of class overlooked in conversations about diversity in heritage?
  2. How can we best enable those from working class backgrounds to participate equally in a sector dominated by part-time and casual contracts?
  3. Does the intersection between class and ethnicity in part explain the underrepresentation of BME in heritage?
  4. How can targets be used effectively to drive improvements in diversity?
  5. Does the historic environment sector need a self-assessment process to enable an organisation to evaluate its performance – and a toolkit to address areas for development?
  6. Where are there examples of innovative practice in improving diversity that could be shared with the historic environment sector?

A summary of the Chat is available here: Diversity in the Historic Environment Sector (February 2018)

Notes from the 2017 Foresight workshop on diversity and inclusion can be found here.

The Heritage 2020 Framework document outlines the vision and priorities for collaboration for each working group.

The Heritage 2020 Framework document outlines the vision and priorities for collaboration for each working group.


  • By 2020 public engagement levels will be significantly higher, especially among currently under-represented groups, as a result of programmes and strategies which promote people’s entitlement to connect with the historic environment.
  • A more diverse range of people will be working or volunteering to care for the historic environment and making a formal commitment through membership of national and local heritage bodies.
  • Communities will be more actively engaged in the planning system as it affects the historic environment. For example through producing local lists, conservation area appraisals and Neighbourhood Forums as well as through commenting on planning proposals.
  • The potential of formal and informal education to increase participation among children and young people will be established to link heritage organisations to local schools.
  • There will be stronger links between the historic environment sector and a wider range of non-heritage organisations sharing similar objectives, with the benefits people experience from engaging with the historic environment understood, resources and delivered in a wider strategic context.

Priorities for collaboration

The key priorities that were identified for collaborative action by the sector, working together are:

Increasing overall levels of participation – numbers of volunteers, visitors and heritage organisation members, with a particular emphasis on increasing diversity through effective strategies to engage under-represented groups.
Giving individuals and communities the tools and encouragement to better understand, investigate, manage, enjoy, make decisions about and raise funds for the historic environment around them.
Championing high quality learning experiences for children and young people within and outside the classroom, supporting the delivery of the school curriculum and the wider Cultural Education agenda.
Developing improved communication and alliances within and beyond the historic environment sector so that the benefits people experience from engaging with the historic environment are understood, resource and delivered in a wider strategic context.
Supporting, sustaining and developing programmes and strategies which promote people’s entitlement to connect with their historic environment.
The working group has created an ‘activity log’ that captures activity in the sector against these priorities. It has mapped the Heritage 2020 Framework priorities against the headings of the Culture White Paper and has identified priority areas for which it will develop actions for 2016-17.

Priorities for 2016-17

Understand what diversity means to the heritage sector and identify where the big possibilities for partnerships between heritage organisations and organisations that bring diversity lie.
The desired outcome is an ethos of cultural entitlement where everyone has a right to understand the values of cultural heritage, has a sense of ownership of cultural assets, and advocates a collective responsibility for the cultural landscape.

Action Plan


Working Group Members

Over the course of the Heritage 2020 programme the following people and organisations contributed to the Public Engagement working group.

Nina Baptiste, Arts Council England
Daniella Briscoe-Peaple, The Heritage Alliance
Gill Bull, Council for British Archaeology (Chair)
Mark Crosby, National Trust
Lizzie Glithero-West, The Heritage Alliance
Anra Kennedy, Culture 24
Joanne Kirton, Council for British Archaeology
Rosi Lister, CapeUK
Paul Manners, National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement
Sarah Maxfield, Arts Council England
John McMahon, Heritage Lottery Fund
Noreen Meehan, NADFAS/The Arts Society
Chloe Meredith, The Churches Conservation Trust
Marie Millward, IVE (Chair)
Sandra Stancliffe, Historic England (Vice Chair)
Matt Trimmer, National Trust
Crispin Truman, The Churches Conservation Trust (Chair)
Lisa Westcott Wilkins, DigVentures
Adam Wilson, VInspired


12 November 2019

The group began by discussing partnerships between heritage organisations and youth engagement organisations, and as part of this they reflected on October’s Heritage Chat which sourced information on under representation of 16-24 year olds in terms of engagement with heritage.

The group also reflected on its recent work with The Heritage Alliance (a group member) to crowd-develop a bid to the Ecclesiastical ‘Movement for Good’ grant scheme for funding to take forward the outcomes of the Heritage 2020 Foresight day on diversity (2017) and Heritage Debate on the same theme (2018). Although that bid has not been successful, the work to scope a project that will gather information on practical tools/support to help organisations improve their diversity practice, (enhanced by a dissemination or networking event) can be re-used in future fundraising. The group has been joined by Sarah Lanchin of NLHF and is looking to help to amplify the learning outcomes from the Kick the Dust programme, recognising that a wide range of organisations are involved in that programme and outputs are consequently widely dispersed and difficult to access.

The group also discussed its work on diversity and inclusion and how this related to wider work going on in the sector. It was also questioned whether the group should think about how to get a diverse range of young people into governance, in particular, the pathways that could be used.

July 2019

Following the work to set out a logic model that brings together how different sector initiatives are addressing the group’s priority areas of youth engagement and diversity, the group has focused on a need to bring in the additional resources that will enable it to take action.

It has identified opportunities to play a role as a broker of learning between youth participation and heritage organisations; and is engaging with a new representative from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to explore opportunities to share the learning and evaluation generated by the Kick the Dust projects.

The group has picked up the action areas that emerged from the 2017 Diversity Foresight session and is looking at how to work with the Heritage Alliance to strengthen practical support to the sector on diversity and inclusion. During July, the group worked together and with the Heritage Alliance via a shared online workspace to develop and submit an application to the Ecclesiastical ‘Movement for Good’ fund for funding to support the development of a package of shared good practice in diversity and inclusion, accompanied by training, mentoring and networking opportunities.

19 March 2019

The group began by discussing the draft logic model that was distributed ahead of the meeting. They agreed that the model shows activity in place but gaps in others and that there will need to be investment to generate new activities in these areas. The group clarified that the age group they will focus on is 16 to 25 year olds as they are less visible in heritage marketing materials. It was noted that the opportunities valued by this target age group would include work experience, opportunities to perform and the development of skills for university. It was agreed that the area in which the public engagement group can add value is in improving understanding of how and where heritage organisations and youth engagement organisations work together successfully.

The group then turned their attention to inclusion and diversity in the historic environment. They identified that a common problem is that attempts to address poor diversity are carried out as projects rather than embedded as an inclusive culture. The group then brainstormed ways to address this and ideas included a dissemination/networking event and a post-doc placement to gather information on practical tools and support.

2 October 2018

The group pooled together their expertise and experience to discuss content for a logic model on how heritage and youth organisations work together. Group members shared examples of other theories of change that they have been involved with and these were broadly split into the following categories: skills; health and wellbeing; young person centred activities; sense of place and identity; and under-represented groups within ‘young people’.

The group then questioned how anniversaries (i.e. National Trust turning 125 years old) can be used to engage young people in decision making about heritage. It was decided that the basic framework of a logic model would be drawn up before the next meeting.

10 July 2018

The group met on 10 July 2018 and following on from their last meeting, discussed their focus areas of youth participation and diversity. The group then reviewed the objectives on their updated action plan, and while doing so, noted that the unique strength of the group is its strong representation of people outside of heritage (i.e. VInspired, IVE). The group shared information on youth engagement projects that are already taking place, noting there is much activity in the natural environment and museums sectors, but less in the built environment. The group concluded that heritage organisations must start to see young people as an asset and not a threat, and that there should be increased training and support for heritage professionals working on youth projects.

The Group decided it would be helpful to develop a theory of change for their work. It was noted that it would allow them to think about where to go after 2020 and identify the gaps that exist in the sector. It was also suggested that such a document could help other organisations to identify issues that relate to them. However, it was also noted that resources and availability may make the development of this a problem, but that this could possibility be overcome by building research connections with the academic sector.

13 March 2018

Prior to the meeting on 13 March, the group’s Chair had held individual conversations with representatives of the organisations involved in the group to understand their current priorities as they relate to those in the Heritage 2020 Framework.

At the meeting, the group carried out a thorough review of its Action Plan and agreed a new focus on increasing youth engagement with the historic environment. Organisations that take part in the group, and the individuals representing them, all have good knowledge of evaluation schemes and projects aimed at increasing youth participation. The group agreed to share this knowledge to generate an understanding of what makes a youth engagement project successful – so that this could ultimately be shared with the wider sector, as part of the group’s work to increase participation with heritage by under-represented groups.

30 October 2017
Gill Bull (CBA) was announced as the group’s next Chair, to take up the role following the October meeting. The group discussed potential contributions to upcoming cross-Heritage 2020 activities, including the planned 2018 Foresight session on ‘digital opportunities’ and the Twitter #HeritageChat series due to be launched at the end of this year.

The group continued its discussion of opportunities for the heritage sector to engage more closely with the National Citizen Service and will work together to maximise these. Similarly, plans were made to open up the Historic England positive action traineeship programme to the rest of the historic environment sector. It is hoped that invitations to the sector to participate can go out before Christmas so that placements can be advertised in the Spring.

A brief for a project looking into examples of organisations improving diversity in governance is being drafted; the group shared contacts to help develop it further.

Finally, the Public Engagement action plan’s priority areas and focus for action will be reviewed ahead of the next meeting.

3 July 2017
The group met on 3rd July 2017, welcoming new participants and acknowledging the contributions of those stepping down from the group. Jessica Taplin, Chief Executive of VInspired, gave an overview of VInspired, including its work as an NCS delivery partner. The group has previously identified engagement with NCS as an opportunity to engage young people in heritage. The group also discussed the Historic England positive traineeship model might be used by the wider sector, with possible opportunities arising from Autumn 2017. A project proposed by the group to research how organisations outside the historic environment sector address issues of diversity in governance now has financial support, and work shall begin on a brief. Finally, the group discussed the link between heritage, and health and wellbeing, noting the success of and recommendations from the Churches Conservation Trust conference. The topic of health and wellbeing is one of three due to be considered by the Heritage 2020 HEF subcommittee as the potential theme of the 2018 Foresight day.

20 March 2017
The group discussed responses to the consultation, particularly the focus on ‘local’ in relation to ‘national’ and renewed focus on community leadership. It agreed to align with the work of the Constructive Conservation and Sustainable Management group in its approach to working with community-based groups, such as their work around the transfer of assets.

After reviewing its Action Plan, the group agreed to take forward work to develop a summary document, ‘Pathways to Participation with Heritage’, aimed at sign-posting the sector to opportunities for working with organisations with strengths in addressing diversity issues.

The group discussed engaging with the National Citizen Service as a means of increasing participation among young people with the historic environment and heritage organisations. This is to form one of the areas of activity for 2017-18.

The group also discussed the Heritage 2020 Foresight day, on the theme of diversity in the historic environment sector and agreed to focus on promoting engagement in governance in its forward plan for 2017-18. Activities will seek to identify and share examples of good practice in engaging a diverse range of people with governance of organisations, drawn from within and beyond the historic environment sector.

As one of the first steps towards implementing the outcomes of the discussion on diversity in the historic environment sector, the group is contacting a wider range of organisations with a view to their participation in the working group.

7 November 2016
The meeting focused on diversity in public engagement as the first theme to be addressed through collaborative working. Topics of discussion included: defining the core issue in terms of engagement for the heritage sector, existing data, and how to tap into knowledge that exists elsewhere.
A three-step analysis of what is needed to support organisations in being more active in addressing diversity issues was agreed as:
1. agreeing what diversity means for the sector
2. identifying the barriers or key challenges for diversity in public engagement
3. finding out where the opportunities for improving diversity in public engagement lie.
The group discussed how to take this work forward to produce a resource that could be used by the wider sector. A first step is to invite contributions to the issue through the Heritage 2020 consultation.