Being connected – to friends, family, community, the wider world – is critical for living and ageing well. Participants in the 6 museum experiments made connections through the project to the natural world, to natural heritage collections, to other people and their community, and to themselves. The museums worked hard to create a welcoming and open environment for participants, and many talked about the enjoyment and inspiration of finding like-minded people to share their experiences with.

We found that the participants in Encountering the Unexpected had a rich, complex and varied experience of, and relationship with, nature. They described their experience of nature in very sensory and emotional terms, which was often connected to a sense of wellbeing. Nature helped people to feel uplifted, amazed or gave them a sense of wonder. It helped people to relax, to get away from the busy-ness of life, to recharge or to feel at home. Participants connected with nature in a variety of settings including gardens, walking their dogs, being in the park, looking out of the window, through photography and creative work such as sketching and painting, and at the beach.

This short film introduces the different ways in which participants made a connection to nature, and to other people through the museum experiments:

Tellingly, none of the participants talked about engaging with nature prior to the experiments through museums or natural heritage collections. We found that for many participants, traditional approaches to displaying and interpreting natural heritage collections through scientific language and concepts can be a barrier, off-putting, or even harmful. There is a real tension between the ways in which people engage with, and connect to, the natural world, and how museums approach natural heritage which needs to be addressed if more people are to be engaged with collections.

Read more:

Living in the moment

Meaning and purpose

Active engagement