Encountering the unexpected: Connecting people, museums and nature to encourage successful aging

The UK’s population is ageing and it is increasingly recognised that how we age matters. To age successfully, older people need to remain actively engaged with the world, be socially connected and retain a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives. How can museums build on the powerful work they do around memory and empower older people to engage with, not disconnect from, the contemporary social, political and natural world through encounters with the unfamiliar, the extraordinary and the unexpected?

Encountering the Unexpected is a two-year project developed by the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries (RCMG) that will initiate a series of bold museum experiments with natural heritage collections to develop a framework, or set of principles, that will activate, and interrogate, the potential of these collections to support successful ageing. Funded by the Museum Association’s Esmée Fairburn Collections Fund, the project is a partnership between RCMG, the North West Natural History Museums Partnership, and strategic partners including The Eden Project, Age UK and Equal Arts.

Natural heritage collections are packed with millions of wonders that can intrigue, surprise, and fascinate. How might these treasures be unlocked to support older people to age successfully, re-connect them with the natural world and encourage them to have a stake in the present and future? Older people are an untapped audience for natural heritage collections, which are strongly associated with children and their families, making it a challenge for museums to raise awareness of the importance of these collections across the whole of the life course. Also, having a connection to nature and positive wellbeing are inextricably linked - evidence suggests that connecting with nature can help restore physical energy, reduce stress, generate a positive mood and improve general outlook on life. However, evidence from Natural England suggests that older people are often disconnected from the natural world and less likely to have regular contact with nature. Museums in the North West are keen to use their collections in new and imaginative ways, and Encountering the Unexpected will provide a lens through which to explore and revitalise natural heritage collections for a new audience.

Encountering the Unexpected combines RCMG’s interests in active ageing and the potential to use collections in new ways and the need of the Museums Partnership to better understand how they can use their natural heritage collections to enrich lives and ensure that staff working with these collections have the skills and confidence to use them effectively. At the heart of the project will be rich, stimulating and meaningful encounters with natural heritage collections.

For more information contact: 

Jocelyn Dodd
Director, RCMG
jad25@le.ac.uk 

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