The museum experiments were an opportunity to be innovative with collections, take risks and diversify older audiences, framed by a set of ideas around living and ageing well and nature connectedness. Supported by RCMG, curators and engagement staff, artists, creative practitioners and their partners worked together to use their natural heritage collections to provide meaningful opportunities for older participants to have unexpected encounters with the natural world. The experiments reflected a range of themes but required no knowledge of natural history.

Museums approached their experiments in different ways – as one-off events or a series of workshops taking place over a longer period. Museums worked with established groups or recruited participants specifically for their experiment. Partners included housing associations such as Southway Housing in Manchester and Bolton at Home, and strategic initiatives such as Ambition for Ageing and Age Friendly Manchester.

Instead of working with older people who have a specialist interest in natural heritage, Encountering the Unexpected reached out to older people representing diverse ages, life experiences and backgrounds from former teachers, to engineers and factory workers. Working with the 6 museums to reconsider the ways in which they view, frame and approach working with older people and natural heritage collections required a shift in their thinking, which was sometimes challenging. However, evidence captured throughout the process showed that museums can make a difference to individual lives through providing opportunities to live and age well.

6 Museum Experiments

The Atkinson, Southport

Bolton Libraries and Museums

Gallery Oldham

Manchester Museum

National Museums Liverpool

The Whitaker, Rossendale