Green Social Prescribing – supporting people to engage in nature-based activities
Activities such as those connected with nature and the natural environment or the arts, or that engage us in exercise or sport, can all help us to maintain and build relationships, to unlock our strengths, to have choice and control and to make constructive and helpful contributions within our community.
This is at the heart of social prescribing, which is a way for health professionals to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services. A social prescribing link worker or health professional will refer people to activities in the community that support them or help to improve their health and wellbeing. The emphasis is on what matters to each person, leading to a shared plan where link workers connect people with local groups who can support them. The infrastructure for delivering a universal model for social prescribing is currently being developed by the NHS, with social prescribing link workers being employed across all Primary Care Networks in England and an ambition of social prescribing reaching over 900,000 people by March 2024.
Green social prescribing is the ambition to support people to engage in nature-based activities as a way of delivering mental health benefits they need. The idea of developing Green Social Prescribing builds on the strong and growing evidence for the benefits of being connected with nature. Enabling contact and connection – a ‘connectedness’- with nature can improve health, wellbeing and quality of life1. Activities can take many forms, from using green gyms to angling, from running to Nordic walking – or simply going for a walk - with a dog, in a group or alone. Taking part in gardening or practical conservation activities can bring people together, with benefits for wellbeing and loneliness. Having a wide range of activities that are accessible for all - regardless of ability and background - is important so there is hopefully something of interest to each individual.
Social prescribing relies on local communities and local community–based activities that people can be referred to. Delivering these activities requires great partnerships, of local communities and delivery bodies with managers of the places that they can host them in. And local parks, gardens and greenspace - as the natural places that people connect with most regularly2 - can be great places to host activities. The same is true for nature reserves, national parks and heritage sites, plus beaches and coasts that people visit on day trips and holidays.
For people to continue to want to take part and reap the benefits of doing so, both the activities and the places hosting them need to be welcoming, attractive, easy to access and well-managed – by skilled people who offer a warm welcome and are willing to guide people to activities they can take part in.
There is still a great deal do to ensure everyone has access to social prescribing and green social prescribing opportunities wherever they are needed. During the Covid-19 pandemic evidence has shown us the lack of access to gardens and, as a consequence, the importance in our urban areas of access to good quality local parks and greenspace to communities who are already least likely to benefit from visiting natural environments and who are now being disproportionately disadvantaged by Covid-193, which may include the disabled, the elderly, those from Black, Asian and ethnically diverse communities and people from lower income households. A key challenge ahead is to develop partnerships that can offer green social prescribing activities and bring benefits to all, especially to those communities most in need. Currently seven Green Social Prescribing pilots4 are testing and capturing the learning on what works to guide the expansion of green social prescribing opportunities.
The National Academy for Social Prescribing works to create partnerships, across in particular the arts, health, sports, leisure and the natural environment to promote health and wellbeing at a national and local level. Launched in 2019, we champion social prescribing and the work of local communities in connecting people for wellbeing. We have a simple ambition: We want people to be able to live the best life they can.
Our support for local communities reflects the belief that people should be at the heart of all healthcare. We are contributing £500,000 over 2 years to support the piloting of Green Social Prescribing5. Our £1.8million Thriving Communities fund and programme6 is supporting voluntary and community sector groups to form partnerships to deliver social prescribing opportunities in their local areas. Our Academic Partners Collaborative7 aims to improve the evidence base for social prescribing and making existing evidence more accessible for anyone interested in making social prescribing thrive. We and our network of high-profile champions are working to raise the profile of social prescribing though campaigns, podcasts and social media activity and working international partners including the World Health Organisation on a Global Social Prescribing Alliance8 which aims to spread the word of social prescribing globally.
Find out more about social prescribing and green social prescribing at socialprescribingacademy.org.uk. To find people active in your area and get involved, connect with the Thriving Communities Network at https://socialprescribingacademy.org.uk/thriving-communities/network/
1 Nature Connectedness amongst adults and Children in England – Natural England publication JP032 plus 2021 Defra: What Works briefing on natural environment-based health interventions: Research briefing Defra, UK - Science Search
6 National Academy for Social Prescribing Thriving Communities Programme
7 National Academy for Social Prescribing Academic Partners Collaborative
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