Have we lost our love of heritage? Research finds millions of young adults never visit museums, galleries or theatres

04 December 2018

Ahead of Heritage Day 2018, new research by specialist insurer Ecclesiastical has revealed millions of young adults in the UK never visit heritage organisations.

The survey of 2,000 18-30 year olds2 across the UK found young adults prefer to stay in and watch TV or use social media, than go out and visit a museum, gallery or theatre. 
Many young adults are disengaged with the UK’s heritage 
More than a third (36%) of 18-30 year olds never visit galleries, and almost a quarter (24%) never visit theatres. While just under one in five never visit museums (19%). Almost half (48%) never visit stately homes, while a third (33%) never visit castles. The research revealed a stark gender gap in attitudes towards heritage with young men far less likely to visit heritage buildings than women. 
The perception that heritage is boring, distance to travel, and cost are the top three reasons that deter young adults from visiting heritage organisations. 
Many haven’t visited heritage organisations during childhood 
Interestingly, many of the young adults surveyed had never visited heritage organisations as a child. More than a third (37%) had never visited a stately home, while a quarter (25%) had never visited a gallery as a child. Just under one in five (19%) had never visited a castle as a child.
People who were not taken to heritage locations as children, are far less prone to visit them as adults. For example, 60% of those who went to museums as children visit at least once a year now they are adults. While those who never visited museums as children, 69% never go as adults. While 50% of those who visited galleries as children visit at least once a year now they are adults. And people who never visited galleries as children, 74% never visit as adults. 
How can heritage organisations do more to engage young adults? 
The survey found cheaper tickets, more variety of events and hands on activities are the top three changes that would encourage 18-30s to visit more regularly. Other changes cited included more food and drink options, more accessible opening hours, and interactive programmes designed to get people active in the arts. 
Cocktail bars, pop-up salsa classes and silent discos are some of the many ways heritage organisations are diversifying to attract a more diverse audience. Initiatives like Lates, which are events that start after 5pm in Museums, Galleries, Heritage Sites and Historic Houses, are on the rise. And organisations such as Brunel’s SS Great Britain in Bristol have opened its doors after-hours with live music, gin tasting and theatre improvisation. 
Technology has a huge part to play in engaging more young adults with the UK’s heritage
If they were made available during their next visit, young adults would use VR headsets, digital displays, and interactive apps on their phones. Over a third (34%) said a good online presence would encourage them to share their experiences on social media, and interestingly over half (52%) of those who had visited a heritage organisation online said the digital experience inspired them to want to visit in person. 
Many organisations are already embracing technology to attract more visitors. For example, this year the Natural History Museum launched a virtual reality experience featuring Sir David Attenborough and specimens from the collections. The technology enabled visitors to virtually pick up and look closely at objects including fossils, bones and skulls, with Attenborough, in the form of a digital hologram, acting as a personal guide.
Faith Kitchen, heritage director at Ecclesiastical said: “It’s sad to learn that so many young adults today aren’t visiting heritage organisations such as museums, galleries and theatres. As a leading insurer of heritage buildings we’re passionate about history and culture in the UK.”
“While many heritage organisations have done some fantastic work diversifying their offering to attract younger audiences, clearly more needs to be done to engage the millions of young adults who aren’t visiting these incredible places across Britain.” 

1. Heritage Day 2018 https://www.theheritagealliance.org.uk/heritage-day/ 
2. Independent research company OnePoll on behalf of Ecclesiastical. 2,000 18-30 year olds based in the UK were surveyed in October 2018