Encountering the Unexpected

Successful ageing: people, nature and natural heritage collections

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? How can natural history curators be supported to find ambitious new uses, meaning and relevance for their collections?

Encountering the Unexpected 1Encountering the Unexpected is a two-year project that will initiate a series of bold museum experiments to develop a framework, or set of principles, that will activate and interrogate the potential of natural heritage collections to support successful ageing and achieve social change. Through partnerships with the North West Natural History Museums Partnership, strategic partners The Eden Project, RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and Public Interest Research Centre and active ageing specialists Age UK, Age Friendly Museum Network and Equal Arts, the project will explore how natural history collections can be used to stimulate older people, support successful ageing and re-connect them with the natural world.

Encountering the Unexpected combines RCMG’s interests in active ageing and the potential to use collections in new ways and the need of the NW 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.

Hands holding a pine cone Kestrel specimen Group out in nature

How might (for example) engaging with natural history specimens stimulate concern for, and action to protect, the natural world? Nature and 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, older people are often disconnected from the natural world and less likely to have regular contact with nature (Natural England 2015). Natural heritage collections are strongly associated with children and their families, making it difficult for museums to raise awareness of the importance of these collections across the whole of the life course. 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.

Woman drawing from a book

Encountering the Unexpected is funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund, run by the Museums Association.

Find out more about the North West Natural History Museums Partnership in their publication, 7 Million Wonders (2015).

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