Heritage and Wellbeing

By Eleanor Styles

Eleanor Styles (she/her) is a Trustee of the Scottish Civic Trust and works for Historic Environment Scotland as the National Strategy Coordinator for Our Past, Our Future, the national strategy for Scotland’s historic environment. Eleanor has a Masters in Cultural Heritage Management from the University of York.


Wellbeing has never been a more prominent topic in politics and the media. We have become increasingly more aware of the importance of wellbeing for healthy, resilient, and thriving communities. In this blog, we will explore how heritage can contribute to wellbeing and the importance of investing in our historic environment as a tool for positive change.

Wellbeing and our built environment

Studies have shown that how people experience their urban environments can significantly influence their wellbeing. Research also indicates that the quality of our physical environment can influence physical and emotional wellbeing. In 2016, a major research investigation found that an “adverse physical environment” helps to explain why life expectancy in Scotland is lower than elsewhere in the UK. Other research has shown that exposure to urban dereliction can negatively affect life satisfaction.

Why is this important?

As our urban spaces evolve, the importance of the historic environment becomes increasingly evident. Last month, new research from Historic England demonstrated that the mere presence of nearby historic places benefits residents’ quality of life, whether they participate in heritage activities or not. Access to historic parks, gardens, and green spaces, for instance, can play a crucial role in promoting physical and mental health, providing respite from urban living and fostering a sense of connection to nature.

Furthermore, data has shown that engaging with our heritage can have profound implications for individual and community wellbeing, especially for those who have been historically marginalised. Studies by Historic Scotland have shown that visiting historic sites or participating in heritage-related activities can reduce stress, boost mood, and foster a sense of belonging and purpose.

This is because our historic environment is not just a collection of old buildings and artefacts. From physical landmarks to cultural traditions passed down through generations, our historic environment forms the foundation of our sense of identity, connecting us to the past, present, and future. Looking after our historic environment is therefore not just a matter of conservation, but an investment in our identity and wellbeing. By protecting and celebrating our heritage, we forge a deeper connection to our community and its history. This sense of belonging fosters social cohesion and resilience, providing a source of comfort and stability in an ever-changing world.


Preserving our heritage is not just a matter of nostalgia. It is an investment in the wellbeing of our communities. By creating accessible spaces, promoting health and wellbeing, and fostering economic opportunities, heritage can be a potent force in our collective journey toward wellbeing equity. This means not only conserving historic buildings and artefacts but also actively engaging with our heritage in ways that promote equity, diversity, and inclusion.

To support wellbeing in communities, an approach to the built environment is needed that considers town-planning, transport systems, buildings, and green spaces all-together to make real progress. Through collaborative efforts between civic organisations, policymakers, and communities, we can unlock the potential of our cultural heritage as a tool to address societal inequalities and create a more just, equitable and inclusive society where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.


Heritage Capital and Wellbeing: Examining the Relationship Between Heritage Density and Life Satisfaction‘ Historic England, March 2024

The Links between Scotland’s Historic Environment and Wellbeing’ Historic Scotland, August 2020

Towards a Wellbeing Economy: The Distribution of Wellbeing in the UK’ BIGGAR Research, October 2023

Cover image: Cullen Harbour cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Alan Murray-Rust – geograph.org.uk/p/6287193