Natural heritage collections in museums are strongly associated with children and families, and people who have a specialist interest in the subject. Encountering the Unexpected set out to explore the potential of natural heritage collections to provide opportunities for living and ageing well, enriching lives and (re)connecting older people to the natural world. Inspired by the publication 7 Million Wonders – which looks at how museums with natural heritage collections can help people and nature flourish – we deliberately chose to work with natural heritage collections to avoid the association with memory and to explore the opportunities to engage older people in the present and encourage a stake in the future.

But why natural heritage?  In this short film, Henry McGhie, Head of Collections and Curator of Zoology at Manchester Museum, talks about the importance of this concept:

As 7 Million Wonders explains, the potential benefits of engaging with natural heritage collections can be substantial, for both health and wellbeing and understanding the importance of the natural world to our everyday lives. However, the traditional, expert-led, scientific approaches to these collections can often create barriers to meaningful engagement.

To enable meaningful engagement, we needed to connect natural heritage collections with everyday experiences of nature and the natural world. Our frame for this was nature connectedness, a theory about the relationship between humans and the natural world, which is based on the extent to which our conception of self includes nature. It is a powerful way to engage people because it replicates how they connect with nature in the everyday, which can be very personal, visceral, emotional and uses all the senses. More about this approach can be found in Natural Heritage Collections.

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Six museums