Celebrating the power of community to improve health and wellbeing

National Social Prescribing Day 2023

We were huddled around the fire in Tim’s log cabin at Whispering Trees chatting before the main meeting started. Gene talked of a walking group that had recently got going in Long Eaton involving refugees staying at a local hotel. Scott made a connection with his men’s choir which gathers down on the canal tow path one evening a week to sing under a bridge – it’s a powerful way of standing alongside others through music and the outdoors and the mental health benefits are huge. After a short discussion and several dots joined, there was a plan in place to approach the refugee centre manager and extend the hand of friendship to over 200 people staying there.

It’s often the informal conversations before the agenda where the best work happens; it’s authentic, curious, attentive, and intimate and reflects the very nature of community activity. If only we could create the conditions to replicate this further across the Health and Care system without feeling compelled to badge up, box off and programme ideas into workstreams, funding streams, measurable outputs and, worst of all, job descriptions which then require long term resource.

As we celebrate Social Prescribing Day – and I do want to celebrate social prescribing (I’ve been saved by it more times than I can remember) – I’d like to pay attention to the provision of activity without which social prescribing couldn’t exist, and the enormous value brought to the system by community organisers. They are the amazing people with love in their hearts, knowledge in their heads and skill in their hands. They are not performance-managed to achieve targets; they get out of bed every day to make a meaningful difference to the lives of others and do so mainly by finding their own remuneration and resourcing the work themselves. It’s no mean feat.

As part of the Green Social Prescribing pilot work in Derby and Derbyshire, we are developing a model which builds on this capacity, starting at and investing in the grassroots end of the system with a small group of community providers in a locality – people with energy, ambition, integrity and desire to work together, better. Then to promote the activities and opportunities for improved mental health and wellbeing in order to generate thriving networks of referrals, appropriate provision, participation, and hopefully better health. Investing properly in this way of working is brave, it’s letting go of traditional power dynamics where public sector agencies ‘grant’ small crumbs of money to groups to deliver activities on a month by month, year by year basis. It means trusting in community-based providers to get on with it alongside each other, drawing on their collective wisdom, energy, contacts and know-how for the good of people in the place.

If successful, it has the potential to cut down the workload of Link Workers dramatically, helping them do what they were employed to, requiring them to have far fewer linear relationships with providers, allowing them to concentrate on the person requiring support. It also promises to satisfy the prevention agenda, cited in so many of the health system’s strategic documents, generating vibrant communities where good health is everyone’s business.

Andrea Kemp, Green Spring Network

Derby/shire GSP test and learn pilot film

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