People may begin volunteering as part of their social prescribing journey. To support this, the National Academy for Social Prescribing (NASP) and the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) have published a guide to supportive volunteering for organisations called: ‘7 steps to wellbeing through volunteering: How to link to social prescribing’.
With volunteering associated with a raft of health and wellbeing benefits, including reduced loneliness and improved mental health, it is clear that well designed, supportive volunteering roles have a key part to play in social prescribing delivery.
Volunteering on prescription
However, it is the groups with the most to gain from volunteering that face barriers to getting involved because of lack of opportunity. Ill-health and disability can be particular barriers for low-income groups and any wellbeing associated with volunteering is at risk if people end up feeling burnt out and unappreciated.
As part of the Accelerating Innovation in Social Prescribing programme, NASP and RVS have published this guide, which lays out the 7 steps of designing volunteering programmes that work for people with health and social care needs who may be referred through social prescribing.
In brief, they are:
- Meet people where they are
- Make it personal
- Put wellbeing at the heart
- Build circles of support
- Make it social
- Remember it’s a journey
- If you treasure it, measure it
The full guide expands on each point, explaining a) why it matters and b) what can be done to ensure these principles are at the heart of any volunteering programme for people who have been socially prescribed. Alongside the guide, there are tools and resources for organisations wanting to learn more or integrate the advice into their programme.
"Finding my purpose"
Demonstrating these ideas in action are two case studies of people who have been prescribed a voluntary role that has had a positive impact on their health and wellbeing. Read more about their stories in the guide.
Betty is a full-time carer for her husband who was referred to a link worker for anxiety and depression. The first thing the link worker did was help arrange social care for Betty’s husband and respite for her. The link worker’s links to the local CVS ensured Betty could find the right volunteering opportunities to support her personal plan.
Joe was referred to a link worker by his GP to support his mental health. His personal goal was to “find my purpose”. Joe was referred to volunteer at two local groups, Sustaining Dunbar and the Woodland Trust. Since he also wanted to retrain as a Ranger, this volunteering helped him gain valuable skills and connections. It also helped him to develop a work profile and secure a work trial in an environmental role.
The Accelerating Innovation programme is a pioneering partnership between The National Academy for Social Prescribing, Royal Voluntary Service and NHS England & Improvement. The programme champions innovative ideas and approaches to social prescribing especially those which address health inequalities and Covid-19 recovery strategies. The aim is to reach more people and transform more lives across the country, through innovative partnerships and approaches.
Ingrid Abreu Scherer, Head of Accelerating Innovation at NASP, said:
“Charities and community groups are great at providing rich and meaningful volunteering opportunities. This guide helps them think about what else they could do to include volunteers who are referred through social prescribing, to make sure as many people as possible can benefit from the experience.”
Catherine Johnstone CBE, CEO of the Royal Voluntary Service, said:
“The power of volunteering to transform lives is extraordinary. Our own research proves it can have a really positive impact on the health and wellbeing for those already affected by long term health conditions. So we are delighted to share this guide, which we hope will support and enable more volunteering opportunities to be developed and offered within social prescribing contexts.”
Jarina Choudhury, Strategic Volunteering Lead of NCVO, said:
“I’m delighted that this guide supports good volunteering in social prescribing and that it chimes with many of the Vision for Volunteering’s key themes – in particular, that volunteering should be accessible and welcoming, removing barriers from those who would most benefit.
The strengths-based approach also reflects the Vision’s desire to see more power in the hands of volunteers, and the emphasis on building circles of support builds on what the Vision says about making collaboration and experimentation in volunteering more mainstream.”