Museum Studies at Leicester

Unexpected Encounters: How museums nurture living and ageing well

Medical examination

The Research Centre for Museums and Galleries (RCMG) at the University of Leicester considers the question - as the world population ages, how can museums nurture living and ageing well?

Perceptions of older age can focus on decline, frailty, illness and dependence, linked to a medical model that pathologises and problematises ageing. This model shapes the roles that older people can have in society, the expectations that people have of them, and how organisations, such as museums, respond to their needs.

Instead of seeing ageing as a ‘problem’, how can museums create more opportunities for people in the later stages of life to live in the moment, be actively engaged, have meaning and purpose and feel connected to their communities and the wider world? How can museums support older people to live and age well?

This publication emerges from the research project Encountering the Unexpected, an innovative two-year action research project that set out to challenge the (unconscious) assumptions that museums make about older people and find new approaches to engaging them with natural heritage collections. 

Initiated by the RCMG) and funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund, Encountering the Unexpected worked with six museums from the North West Natural History Museums Partnership, specialists in  ageing, the environment and nature connectedness, and 100 older people to develop the Unexpected Encounters Framework that can support museums to nurture older people to live and age well, reconnect with the natural world and encourage meaningful engagement in the present.

Unexpected Encounters is designed to raise questions and start conversations, to stimulate museum thinking and practice but most of all to engage with older people rights - a pressing social justice issue. We hope the publication and website will prompt more conversation and action. 

Complementing the publication is the project website Encountering the Unexpected which draws on experiences and voices of all those involved in the project.

Back to top