Enriching the List, Enriching Lives
Assessing how contributing to heritage through Enriching the List can help the personal wellbeing of contributors.
What is Enriching the List?
‘Enriching the List’ is an innovative User Generated Content tool managed by Historic England whereby anyone can share stories, photographs and other content to be included alongside the statutory List entries for England’s most significant historic buildings and sites, as registered on the National Heritage List for England (NHLE). The list entries are usually concise descriptions of the features and significance of a building or site. Enriching the List offers the opportunity to supplement this with new information from the public, building up a fuller picture and capturing a new range of values. Under the scheme, anyone using the Historic England website can view shared content and sign-up for an account to share their own. We welcome anything that celebrates and enhances our understanding of designated heritage assets:
- Photos - new or old
- Historical events and social history
- Information about the architecture or archaeology
- Links to useful online resources
We launched Enriching the List in 2016 to great success. However, after five years an upgrade was needed. As a result, in December 2021 we relaunched the Enriching the List tool, alongside a new design for the NHLE webpages. The new Enriching the List tool offers a better user experience with a more modern, attractive and accessible interface, so that anyone can share their thoughts, feelings, memories and images.
Wellbeing and Enriching the List
Anecdotal evidence from the scheme so far suggested that Enriching the List had two beneficial outcomes. It enhances the List as a public resource by adding information and perspectives to it, but it also benefits the people making the contributions. For example, when East Kent Mencap purchased a listed building in need of repair in Ramsgate to expand their services, they developed a project to document its restoration using Enriching the List. A group of members with learning disabilities took photographs of the building, which were uploaded with individual reflections. This allowed participants to develop a relationship and a sense of ownership with their building. Having their images and reflections uploaded and available through Enriching the List reportedly provided participants with instant connection to the building and a reward for their efforts.
Contributions through Enriching the List can reveal new information not only about a building but also about a person. Some of the most captivating are those that provide glimpses into the stories of the people that have been associated with it in the course of its history, even up to recent times.
One example of this is a cottage called Monk’s in Sible Hedingham near Braintree, a Grade II timber-framed building of the 17th century. A contributor took the time to share the following:
My mother, Margaret Allen, was the owner of Monks. We, as a family, returned there in 1958 from Tanganyka after the death of my father who was in cattle ranching. I recall that the other contributor must have left some of his comics, which I remember as showing a glittering world of plenty (for a child) in what was a pretty glum and austere world; England in the late fifties. We grew up there, my mother moving to Castle Hedingham in the 1990's. The house was a place of pleasant memories, in darkish times.
This combined with comments from other contributors started to paint a picture of the life of the building and its relationship with its inhabitants.
Whilst the NHLE is a resource of information for heritage management and the public alike, these two examples show how Enriching the List provides a tool which allows active engagement with the List. It provides an opportunity to creatively contribute to the lasting legacy of designated heritage assets and offers an avenue for personal story-telling. In recognising the potential of this a small project was designed with the aim of evaluating the wellbeing benefits of engagement with the NHLE via Enriching the List.
Six participants were selected from among our ‘super users’ for this study. ‘Super users’ are defined as Enriching the List contributors who submit a large volume of content and/or are frequently active on the platform.
Data was collected in one-to-one phone interviews with participants. These took a semi-structured format with a mix of rated or single-answer questions to quickly identify any consensus or disagreement; and open-ended questions for a deeper understanding of personal experience and for richer themes to emerge. Interviews were recorded, transcribed and thematically analysed. Participants were asked to confirm that transcriptions were accurate records of the interview and they had the opportunity to request changes. All responses are anonymous and to protect their identity we have not included any of their Enriching the List contributions in this article.
The questions sought to understand our contributors’ relationship with Enriching the List with regard to: Getting started, Impact of lockdown, Engagement and activity, Motivation, Interest in local heritage, Interest in the List, Wellbeing, and Purpose.
Some participants happened across Enriching the List by chance whilst others had seen promotional activity and followed it up. Since they started, which for most is since its launch in 2016, all participants have been committed contributors. They described their participation either as ‘a hobby’ or as ‘volunteering’ or ‘contributing’.
Lockdown had a severe impact on the ability for people to contribute to the List and this had negative consequences for participants, ranging from experiences of frustration to depression. Emerging from this was a sense of the multiple values of Enriching the List – it was identified as a reason to go and see things that would not otherwise have been visited. One participant said : ‘I’m going to places that I’ve not been to, some I’ve never been to, last week I went up to Lancaster… where I’ve not been since I was on holiday there as an 8 year old in 1954.’ The participant reinforced this by stating that ‘There are thousands of places I wouldn’t have gone to’.
Further responses showed how participation provided a focus especially in periods of personal difficulty. It gave people a purpose and enabled them to get their existing photo archives and newly created material out there into the public domain.
Participants felt as if they were making a difference, learning new skills and enjoying an opportunity and motivation to exercise – one participant stated that ‘It exercises your brain as well as your feet’.
There was a strong sense among participants that doing something useful that had a positive impact on mental health. An inter-related impact valued the legacy element: once submitted, the participant’s text, photos and information became part of a permanent presence for the future, and this emerged as a powerful source of personal satisfaction.
One participant stated that:
Members of the public and perhaps researchers and the like, they will be looking back perhaps 50 years, 100 years from now and they will be looking at these photographs. So it gives me some satisfaction to think that I’m contributing something which might be useful to...people in the future.
This further led to a sense that the work of Enriching the List made the NHLE more accessible to non-heritage professionals, helping others to understand and identify listed buildings.
The survey responses indicated that participation provided new insights and perspectives on place and that adding a photograph made the buildings more appealing and interesting to investigate. There were several comments relating to the idea that a picture paints a thousand words and how Enriching the List was a great way to bring buildings to life. Participants highlighted a sense of accomplishment and how their involvement meant they had visited many places, expanding their experience of heritage and taking them to sites that they had never previously visited.
The value to the individual contributors was clear and one stated that:
It’s my life really. I enjoy it and I’m very happy continuing with it.
This notion of having a purpose and a focus was strong amongst the participants, showing the activity can be a powerful means of supporting wellbeing.
This research is small in scale, but it represents the first enquiry into the benefits of Enriching the List to those making the contributions. It provides insight into how volunteering in this way can provide positive benefits for life satisfaction and mental health. It can stimulate pleasure and joy and help expand perspectives. In combination with the clear legacy of the material as part of the archive that sits alongside the NHLE, Enriching the List provides a great opportunity for ‘meaning making’ through its role in providing new perspectives for individuals on life and experiences, and gives a purpose that helps current and future generations connect with, enjoy and understand our heritage better.
About the authors
Information Services Officer at Historic England
Brook is a part-time Information Services Officer for Historic England and currently a moderator for Enriching the List. He has a combined 10-years’ experience in roles at heritage organisations, dedicating his remaining time to a part-time marketing position at English Heritage and volunteering as an interpretation assistant with the Churches Conservation Trust.
Information Services Officer at Historic England
Annely first joined Historic England in 2017, starting out as an apprentice and became an Information Services Officer once she completed her apprenticeship. Her role is to help users navigate the NHLE, find out if their building is Listed and provide general advice on Listing. Annely is also responsible for moderating the content added as part of the Enriching The List Project along with my colleagues.
Information Services Officer at Historic England
After graduating from the University of Liverpool in 2017 with a BA (Hons) in History, Ahad spent two years working at English Heritage before joining Historic England in 2019. He currently works as an Information Services Officer which involves helping users navigate the National Heritage List for England) and Enriching the List, moderating Enriching the List contributions and providing general advice on Listing.
Dr Linda Monckton FSA
Head of Wellbeing and Inclusion Strategy, Historic England
Linda is an architectural historian with a special interest in the social impact and potential of the historic environment. She has worked in the heritage profession for 25 years as a researcher, analyst and strategist and is leading on Historic England’s strategic approach to delivering health and wellbeing outcomes through its work.
Here are some List Entries where people have written a personal story about their relationship to a Listed building.
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