12/10/2022 Thriving Communities evaluation shows the life-changing impact of social prescribing

Thriving Communities evaluation shows the life-changing impact of social prescribing

The evaluation of the Thriving Communities Fund charts the success of the programme and sets out a blueprint for building healthier, more connected communities.

Read the full evaluation report here.

The £1.8 million Thriving Communities Fund was set up to support 36 social prescribing projects helping communities recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the evaluation by Wavehill, the Fund allowed organisations to make a real difference to the lives of more than 10,000 people. They did this by delivering innovative and varied activities, from bicycle-powered Shakespeare to art lessons, financial wellbeing support, walking and gardening groups.

These activities, which often made use of accessible outdoor community space, had a positive impact on participants’ wellbeing, mental and physical health. For example, one Thriving Communities project (Slough CVS) found that 91% of participants felt healthier and happier after six weeks of sessions.

A group of three gardeners spending time tending to a city gardening project
People planting flowers in a community garden

The evaluation also suggests that the programme was successful in reaching groups more likely to experience poor health and less likely to get the health support they need:

  • 45% had a long-standing health condition or disability – nearly twice the national rate
  • 39% lived within the top 30% of the most deprived communities in England
  • 34% were from Black and ethnically diverse communities

The Fund, which was launched in 2021, was made possible by funding from the National Academy for Social Prescribing, Arts Council England, Natural England and Historic England, with support from NHS England and NHS Improvement, Sport England, the Office for Civil Society, the Money & Pensions Service and NHS Charities Together. Arts Council England administered the fund on behalf of this partnership.

Helping with mental health

Chris, from Morecambe, got involved in the Thriving Communities funded ‘Phoenix Rising’ project, run by Green Close in Lancashire. The project used Thriving Communities funding to offer art, nature and movement activities, to promote recovery, reduce anxiety and build resilience and confidence.

Chris chose to get involved in the art, yoga and groove classes held at his local library.

He said: “All of the non-medical things out there to support wellbeing cost money so they become totally inaccessible for folk like me, especially if you are out of work. I really enjoy the sessions myself and have since started to do my own art at home. This helps massively with my mental health and has become my go-to thing when I’m unsettled.”

A group of older people sit in a circle with their arms raised during a seated exercise
A group of older people taking part in a seated exercise class

A game-changer

One success of the programme was building new and better connections between healthcare networks and the voluntary sector:

  • 88% of projects said that Thriving Communities Fund had led to improved pathways to community support.
  • 91% said it had made alternative support more accessible in their community.
  • 88% of projects said that Thriving Communities Fund had improved links between link workers and Voluntary Community Faith and Social Enterprise organisations
  • 82% said it had improved the local social prescribing offer.
  • Two-thirds of the projects involved volunteers.

St Margaret’s House, a community organisation in Tower Hamlets, set up the ‘Health Tree’ project with the money from the Thriving Communities Fund. The programme brought together local arts organisations, health networks and those from the voluntary sector to improve their social prescribing offer and reach a larger group of people.

The project brought together 22 organisations from the area, who met regularly over the course of the year to strategise and build stronger connections between healthcare and the voluntary sector. As a result, referrals to their activities via social prescribing grew significantly, over seven times more than the previous year.

Stuart Cox, Arts and Wellbeing Director at St Margaret’s House, said:

“The Thriving Communities opportunity has been a game-changer for St Margaret’s House. We always had an interest in social prescribing but this funding opportunity allowed us to really explore and develop as an organisation through partnerships with London Arts and Health, Social Action for Health, Outside Edge and Spare Tyre.”

Now these partnerships, as demonstrated by St Margaret’s House, have been built, there is ample opportunity to work even closer together. For example, the evaluation suggested there was opportunity for voluntary organisations to design activities that address the most pressing local health needs (as determined by the NHS), making the social prescribing activities even more targeted to the local area.

While most projects were – with support from NASP – able to leverage extra funding, there is a clear need for sustainable funding for social prescribing activities.

Sustainable investment

Professor Dame Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the National Academy for Social Prescribing, said:

“As a practicing GP, I know the crucial role social prescribing can play, not just for those people who are directly helped but for healthcare professionals too.

Thanks to the Fund, many local organisations are now working together more effectively, are better connected to the health system and have engaged successfully with social prescribing link workers. In order to allow this good work to continue, NASP is working across the public and private sectors to help establish sustainable investment based on the success of the Thriving Communities Fund model, to allow social prescribing to reach the people most in need of the support and connection it provides.”

Darren Henley, Chief Executive of Arts Council England said:

“The Thriving Communities Fund is clearly making a positive difference to participants’ mental and physical health. This evaluation shows how social prescribing, working in harmony with medical healthcare, can help people to lead happier and healthier lives by enabling valuable connections with artists, arts organisations, museums and libraries in their local communities”.

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, said:

“We are proud to have contributed to the success of the Thriving Communities Fund and the many projects it supports. It reveals the potential of local heritage projects, as part of a wide-ranging programme of wellbeing activity, to have a real impact on people’s lives while also helping to care for our historic environment”.

Amanda Craig, Director of People and Nature at Natural England, said:

“The Thriving Communities Fund’s impressive partnership model brings together activity providers, community groups, local authorities, green space providers and landowners to break down barriers to nature. Wavehill’s evaluation, published today, highlights the valuable benefits of social prescribing for peoples’ mental health and wellbeing and shows how important our local natural places are to the health and prosperity of our communities.”

Read the full evaluation report here

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