Joshua Ryan, Head of Thriving Communities visited The Health Tree, a Thriving Communities funded project, and was informed, inspired, and entertained.

I’m sat in a hall with about sixty people, and we all have our arms out in front us, furiously snapping away like crocodiles. We’re, obviously, trying to tell someone through the medium of mime that their handbag has been eaten by a crocodile. There’s laughter in the air. The atmosphere is pure joy. It is a community of people, revelling in the chance to finally be together again.

This is the Health Tree, one of 37 Thriving Communities projects funded by the National Academy of Social Prescribing and its partners. An innovative partnership between St Margaret’s House, Social Action for Health, Spare Tyre Theatre, Fevered Sleep, London Arts in Health and Outside Edge Theatre Company, the project aims to promote wellbeing and alleviate social isolation, depression, mental health issues and the debilitating effects of COVID-19 – both short and long term.

It’s why I’m in Tower Hamlets today, to see how social prescribing is changing lives on the ground.

The people here come from all over one of the most diverse and underserved communities in London, from all walks of life. They’re linked by one common thread – a desire to connect, and to celebrate the incredible works that are emerging from one of the most challenging years of all of our lives.

So we hear from partners such as Arts Council England, local GP services and local councillors, all laying out their dedication to supporting social prescribing in the communities in which they work. And then the floor opens out in front of us, and we begin to move, and laugh, and connect once again.

Outside Edge deliver the aforementioned communication workshop, a riotous affair dripping with energy. We learn how woodwork is connecting people through Woodwork for Wellbeing. Showmi Das in partnership with Social Action for Health demonstrate how dance can aid movement and wellbeing – all with the help of some incredibly brave volunteers! We also learn how the effects of long COVID have launched a COVID café to support those afflicted.

It is at times hilarious, and at times deeply moving to hear these stories, and to see the work that is happening.

Social prescribing is making a clear difference in the community, and the hard work and passion on show through projects like this are an absolute credit to everyone involved and the VCSFE sector as a whole. Grassroots organisations all across the country are delivering programmes of work such as this on a daily basis, and it proves that out of great challenge can come incredible things. Long may it continue.