What if we stopped seeing older people as a homogenous group with specific characteristics that are often based on damaging stereotypes?

What if museums changed their perceptions of older people from a deficit model to a rights based model?

What would that look like?

As some museum staff realised during Encountering the Unexpected, the reality of working with older people can be very different. Don Stenhouse, Curator of Natural Sciences at Bolton Libraries and Museums, was surprised to find that participants were so interested in natural heritage collections. He commented, I almost imagined that we’d have to make people interested, because the aim was to involve people in natural history, people who hadn’t been interested that much before. Instead he found that people were very willing to be engaged and Don sees the potential for including their experiences of nature within the museum’s displays.

We don’t want to replace the good work that museums are already doing with older people. However, the reality of the ageing population means that museums are grappling with broader debates around the role and value of older people in society. Encountering the Unexpected offers a new approach, based on nuanced practice and thinking, that will help museums to critically reflect on, and think about, how to work with this growing group.