Encountering the Unexpected emerges from the Research Centre for Museum and Galleries‘ (RCMG), University of Leicester, interest in how museums can offer opportunities for living and ageing well, and our experience of exploring the potential of using museum collections to have a positive impact on society. This includes, Mind, Body, Spirit: How museums impact health and wellbeing which documents how creating a network of museums in the East Midlands region of England supported 5 museums to develop projects in response to health and wellbeing needs in their communities. Encountering the Unexpected: reaching older people in Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire and Derbyshire involved taking social history collections out to engage and interest older people – living in the community and in residential and care homes – in the unfamiliar and unexpected.

By using the lens of encountering the unexpected, objects could be used to spark curiosity encourage reflection, create new connections and inspire new ways of thinking. Evidence showed that participating in the sessions significantly increased positive feelings of wellbeing for older people.

However, using social history collections often meant that practitioners tended to slip into well-established, familiar and comfortable working practices of reminiscence and memory work. We wanted to challenge museum practice and thinking around working with a broader population of older people, who might have important things to say about the present and future as well as the past.

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Why natural heritage collections?