Active engagement for living and ageing well is not just about keeping physically and mentally active as an individual, but also keeping active within your wider community, taking part in cultural opportunities and activities that keep your mind focused on now and the future. How active someone is will vary considerably depending on their personal circumstances and capacity, and some people will have access to more opportunities than others. However, by thinking through what it means to be active – e.g. creatively, imaginatively, intellectually rather than solely on physical activity – museums can start to think of new ways to engage older people with their collections and with nature.

Participants kept themselves active in creative ways, including sketching, drawing, photography, painting, and creative writing. Carole Ogden enjoyed the museum experiment she took part in at Bolton Libraries and Museums so much that she offered to deliver a creative writing and poetry session at the museum when the artist and facilitator, Michelle Sheree, was on holiday. For participants such as Ann Ormesher, who took part in the Atkinson’s experiment, keeping active was important because if I slow down, I’m frightened I might stop! Don Berry, participant in Manchester Museum’s experiment noted that whilst the image of retirement is often one of withdrawal from the world, of peace and quiet, however for many of the participants in Encountering the Unexpected it was the opposite – we feel we’re getting as busy as ever!

Despite all their activity, it was clear that many participants have had to make adjustments as they age, particularly in terms of physical mobility and activity. Patricia Walsh, who took part in National Museum Liverpool’s experiment, commented that whilst there are still many things she would like to do, my body just won’t let me do them. Whilst there was some evidence of internalised concerns not to be a ‘burden’ or a ‘problem’ to their families and friends, many participants talked about their willingness to help others and also accept help.  Many participants were concerned about older people who were at risk of social isolation and for museums to provide a range of sessions that would be appealing to both men and women.

Read more:

Living in the moment

Connecting to nature, connecting to people

Meaning and purpose