NatCen 50th Anniversary

At the National Centre for Social Research we believe that social research has the power to make life better. We are looking forward with fresh confidence as we mark our 50th anniversary in 2019.

Where we began

The 1960s was a remarkable period of revolution and change around the world in politics, music and society.  The decade brought about long lasting social change in Great Britain, with the introduction of comprehensive education and the legalisation of abortion, homosexuality and the contraceptive pill. New universities arrived, alongside supermarkets and television. The death penalty ended. Women played an increasing role in politics and the Divorce Act was introduced.  

In 1969, Social and Community Planning Research (SCPR) was co-founded by Roger Jowell and Gerald Hoinville, working out of the back room of a Belsize Park flat.

Gerald Hoinville (left) and Roger Jowell

Gerald Hoinville (left) and Roger Jowell

Roger and Gerald were passionate about social research and surveys and their vision was for an independent organisation to design, carry out and interpret rigorous studies within the field of social and public policy.


  • 1969 – Social and Community Planning Research (SCPR) founded
  • 1975 – SCPR delivered the National Travel Survey, one of many large scale transport surveys and reflecting policy preoccupations with traffic growth in the late seventies
  • 1978 – SCPR’s experiences of survey methods were made more widely available through the publication of a book, Survey Research Practice
  • 1979 – SCPR moved to Northampton Square and formed links with City University on the opposite side of the square.  This relationship continues today in the shape of the European Social Survey 


  • 1982 – SCPR launched and designed the first British Crime Survey
  • 1983 – The British Social Attitudes Survey was launched. It has been carried out annually ever since and is NatCen’s longest running survey, with over 90,000 participants to date
  • 1983 – The British Election Study was placed under the joint direction of SCPR and Nuffield College Oxford.  It has examined every general election in the United Kingdom since 1964
  • 1984 – The International Social Survey Programme is established by SCPR and an international group of social science research schools
  • 1985 – A dedicated qualitative research unit was set up. The organisation prides itself on continuing to reach difficult groups, including victims of serious incidents at sea, criminals and people in care


    • 1990 – Data collection for the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles Survey began.  The findings were published in 1994. Natsal is still one of the largest scientific studies of sexual behaviour in the world
    • 1992 – The Family Resources Survey was set up with the Office for National Statistics
    • 1993 – A joint Health Survey Unit was formed with University College London.  The team went on to win the Health Survey for England contract with the Department of Health
    • 1999 – SCPR became the National Centre for Social Research
    • 1999 – Launch of Scottish Social Attitudes, a sister survey to British Social Attitudes


    • 2001 – The European Social Survey was founded, providing robust data that illuminates changes and stability in the social fabric of Europe
    • 2002 – English Longitudinal Study of Ageing started. NatCen’s focus in this area grew, with the organisation gathering data for the Centre for Longitudinal Studies such as the 1958 Child Development Survey, the 1970 British Cohort Survey, Next Steps and The Millennium Cohort Study
    • 2004 – Six years after NatCen opened offices in Edinburgh, ScotCen was formed. Growing Up in Scotland, the birth cohort survey, launched the following year 
    • 2008 – Launch of the UK Household Longitudinal Study. Now called Understanding Society, it is the largest social research project of its kind in the world. In the same year, fieldwork began on the National Diet and Nutrition Survey and is now in its eleventh year


    • 2014 – WhatScotlandsThinks became the pre-eminent resource for polling information and analysis in the run up to the referendum on Scottish independence
    • 2015 – WhatUKThinks EU referendum project was launched and played a key role in measuring public attitudes in the lead up to the Brexit vote in 2016
    • 2017 – The NatCen Panel won the Market Research Society Award for Innovation in Research Methods
    • 2017 – Senior Research Fellow Sir John Curtice is knighted
    • 2018 – “Characteristics of those working in the gig economy” study had notable political impact on debates around modern work
    • 2018 – NatCen’s research for Cancer UK on how children engage with advertising of unhealthy food on television was cited by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, as he unveiled plans to ban junk food advertising across the entire Transport for London network
    • 2018 – NatCen’s influence in the mental health domain continued to grow with the release of the Mental Health of Children and Young People report - commissioned by NHS Digital
    • 2018 – Our launch of the methods and innovation hub put us back at the heart of methods work
    • 2018 – We won the next wave of the National Child and Development Study, which started in 1958
    • 2019 – We announced our partnership for a fourth wave of the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, showcasing our ability to carry out complex national data collections and interview anyone anywhere to talk about sensitive subjects

    The Future

    Becoming the National Centre for Social Research

    Fifty years on, the National Centre for Social Research remains unique in Britain, and as we look to the future we are driven by our overarching goal- to be The National Centre for Social Research.

    We will be at the heart of the debate on society, in a wider range of innovative partnerships and at the right policy tables. Operating in the public good and as the independent voice of society, we will continue to deliver cutting edge methods and solutions in data collection and analysis, with our talented staff focused on delivering the highest quality research to meet real world needs.

    As policy makers and influencers struggle to make sense of the issues society is faced with in 2019 - Brexit, climate change, Me Too- we need social research more than ever. We must reach out further, across all the nations of the UK and overseas, united in the belief instilled by our founders that social research has the power to make life better.

    Want to know more?

    Discover more about NatCen's 50th anniversary here.