PhD Research

This research will assess how engagement with heritage sites in the UK impacts visitor’s mental health and well-being. Comparative analysis of diverse visitor demographics at a range of heritage sites will investigate the effects of heritage visits on a variety of stakeholders. A combined quantitative and qualitative methodology, including widely recognised well-being measurement tools such as MVAS and PANAS surveys, free comment space and visitor conversations, will be used to produce longitudinal evidence of change in well-being from engagement with heritage sites. Research will aim to understand the role heritage sites can play in creating healthier and happier societies. It will provide guidance for best practice and impact wider wellbeing and health policy for the profession.


Professional experience in the heritage sector in the UK has provided pilot evaluative research and evidence of the positive well-being effects involvement in heritage can have on stakeholders. This research will develop this previously tested methodology into a robust academic research project, developing pilot methodology to include qualitative elements, including a comments space at the end of surveys and visitor conversations. Incorporating qualitative data will permit detailed personal value analysis, investigation of specific impacts on well-being and help determine context and specific reasons for improved well-being.


Over the last decade mental health and well-being has gained significant political and public interest. The UK government launched the National Wellbeing Programme (2010), with the UK population’s well-being being annually assessed by the Office of National Statistics. Political and public interest in well-being has impacted heritage practice, policy and research; including that published by Historic England (2018, 2019); the Heritage Lottery Fund (2019) and the What Works Centre for Wellbeing (2019). This timely and rigorous research provides a significant contribution to political, professional and public understanding of the impact of heritage sites on emotional health and well-being.



  1. Evaluate how public engagement with physical heritage sites can impact well-being and mental health of the visitor.

  2. Understand how different types of heritage sites and diverse demographics of visitors positively and/or negatively impact on subjective well-being

  3. Demonstrate the role heritage sites have in wider socio-political goals of improving emotional well-being and mental health

  4. Provide best practice guidance for the profession & a rigorous framework for evaluating impacts of changes of wellbeing



4 case study sites will be used in this study. Sites will be selected based on the site criteria below. The variety of sites across several criteria will ensure results will be widely applicable to the heritage sector.


Criteria for sites:

  • A range of time periods

  • A range of types of interpretation

  • Ticketing

  • Management styles

  • Locations across the UK

  • Operating budget

  • Socioeconomic demographics of surrounding area

  • Demographic of visitors

    1. University groups

    2. Volunteers

    3. Tourist groups (e.g. coach trips)

    4. Individual/family visitors (adults)


The research will apply a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods; this mixed method approach ensures that results are not limited by specific methodological disadvantages, maximise data collected and variation and are contextually applicable. Qualitative approaches will include visitor conversations and informal non-leading open-ended questions. Quantitative tested public health methodological frameworks of well-being and mental health assessments, such as Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) and Modified Visual Analogue Scale (MVAS) surveys, will be used to assess around 400 visitors at four heritage sites.


The PANAS survey measures positive and negative moods and is widely used to measure well-being (Watson, Cark & Tellegen, 1988). The survey measures well-being through listing words relating to positive (enthusiastic, strong, inspired) and negative emotions (distressed, irritable, ashamed). Participants select how they feel these words apply to them on a numbered five-point Likert scale (from 1. Very slightly or not at all to 5. Extremely).


The MVAS survey was created to measure patient’s pain and has been used as a tool to measure life satisfaction (Studer, 2011 & Peasgood, Brazier, Mukuria & Rowen 2014, Sayer 2018). Participants are given a series of questions relating to their well-being based on the New Economic Foundations ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’ (e.g. When considering your personal happiness, at the moment how happy would you rate yourself?) and asked to select how they feel on a ten-point Likert scale. Surveys will incorporate free comment space to allow participants to include any information they feel important and demographic information will be gained from participant permissions forms.


Visitors will be surveyed at two intervals (on arrival and directly after their visits) to four heritage sites. This will provide longitudinal evidence for change and allow the comparison of well-being before and after interaction with heritage sites. Approximately 400 visitors will be surveyed in total, 100 from each of the 4 types of visitors outlined above, 25 from each group at each site.


Statistical analysis of results will indicate percentage differences between mean results and significant changes to individual well-being after engagement with heritage. This will involve comparing percentage differences via the Wilcoxon paired test, with the significance of results established via standard deviation and insignificant abnormal differences excluded. The large initial data collection will ensure that the data set is large enough for statistical analysis and account for any withdrawals or incomplete surveys (a before and after survey is required to measure change, if one survey is missing the participant will be removed). Qualitative data will be analysed thematically to ascertain any recurring themes and both data sets combined to determine evidence-based conclusions.



Ethical approval has been sought and granted from Manchester Metropolitan University’s ethical committee. Participants will be provided with a participant information sheet detailing the rationale behind the project and complete a consent form. Participants will be able to withdraw from the study at any point without providing a reason. Individual results will be confidential (using a participant coding system) and anonymised in research outputs, in line with GDPR and Manchester Metropolitan University’s data protection policies.

This research is kindly funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (North West Consortium Doctoral Training Partnership) and is taking place from 2019-2023 under the supervision of Dr Faye Sayer (Director of Studies), Dr Sam Edwards (Supervisor) and Dr Ben Edwards (Supervisor) of the Manchester Centre for Public History and Heritage at Manchester Metropolitan University. 

© 2020 by Amy Luck. 

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