The Heritage 2020 Public Engagement group is focusing on shared learning of approaches to increased engagement with heritage. In particular how to enthuse a wider range of individuals, groups and communities to participate in caring for their 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 had 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 was a part of this process. 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 #HeritageChat 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.

Below are examples of some of the success stories of youth engagement shared during the chat: 

Youth Arts Festival, National Coal Mining Museum

  • 16-25 year olds worked to plan, promote and run the Youth Arts Festival. Over 100 young performers took part and the Museum was able to tell stories in fresh new ways.

Shout out Loud, English Heritage

  • A project whereby 11-21 years olds are given a voice to explore ideas and tell the stories of the past.

Kids in Museum Takeover Days

  • They have also produced excellent guidance on how museums can support children and young people to understand and respond to the climate emergency. More here.

Escape Room Events

  • Example above is from Cambridge Museums, but various museums are now having success with similar types of events.

Built Heritage Youth Engagement Programme, MOLA

  • MOLA worked with Haringey Youth Justice Service to engaged disadvantaged young people in the built heritage of their locality.

The Public Engagement working group is now focusing on how to bring together organisations with a strong track-record in youth engagement with heritage sector organisations identifying conditions for success, and sharing learning from the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s ‘Kick the Dust’ programme provides an opportunity 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.
See other activities of the Public Engagement working group.