There are a wide range of social activities, services and opportunities that can benefit our health and wellbeing, which people connect to in different ways.
Many people connect to these opportunities independently: for example, they may decide to sign up to an exercise class to lose weight, join a gardening club to make new friends, or call a debt advice charity to get help managing their finances.
Other people need support to make these connections. They may be unaware of what exists, lack the time or motivation to engage, feel anxious or self-conscious about participating, or face barriers because of their health, because of a disability or for financial reasons.
In some cases, this support will come from a friend, a neighbour or a family member who signposts them to an opportunity and helps them to participate. In other cases, it may come from a conversation at a library, a youth club or a place of worship, or from a ‘community connector’ or volunteer.
For people with more complex needs, the support may come from a professional who gets to know the individual, learns about their unique circumstances and preferences, and helps them to access a service based on their individual needs and wishes. The NHS is recruiting 4,500 Social Prescribing Link Workers who play this role.
These different forms of connection all form part of the social prescribing ecosystem. For social prescribing to be effective, there need to be appropriate assets and services available in communities and across the country – including a sustainable voluntary sector, relevant advice and information services, and spaces where people can access nature, take part in physical activity and movement, and engage with heritage, arts and culture.
As part of our Thriving Communities programme, we are developing a whole-community approach to social prescribing. This can mean using community spaces like libraries, leisure centres or places of worship as ‘hubs’ for social prescribing, and launching ‘buddy’ or ‘connector’ schemes to identify people who need support.
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Figure 1: the ways that people connect to activities and opportunities that benefit health and wellbeing
Find out more about social prescribing: www.socialprescribingacademy.org.uk