• “A very special moment was seeing Marion, 95, swinging freely from an aerial silk hammock and laughing while suspended in the air for the very first time.”
  • Physical activity and exercise is now offered as part of social prescribing as an important way for people to manage their health conditions
  • It will help support people to stay connected and maintain their health and wellbeing
  • NASP’s Thriving Communities Programme has funded sports and physical activity projects to help individuals and communities tackle loneliness, improve wellbeing and recover from COVID-19
  • Everything from aerial silks to dementia friendly swimming, walking football to beginners bowls on offer

The world’s finest sportspeople are taking centre stage at the Olympics. Meanwhile, closer to home, communities are using the power of sport to help people with their physical and mental health and recover from COVID-19. People from lower socio-economic demographics, BAME communities and older people are likely to be the least active. During the first wave of the pandemic the proportion of people classified as active reduced by 3 million, or 7.1%, according to research from Sport England.

Through social prescribing, people are rediscovering a sport, enjoying something for the first time, getting out to explore their local area, and engaging with their community.

The National Academy for Social Prescribing’s (NASP) and partners’ Thriving Communities Fund is supporting 37 projects across the country to help build opportunities for people to take part in a range of activities, including physical activity and sport, in their local community.

Social prescribing link workers or other health professionals refer people to activities in their local community that can support or improve their health and wellbeing.  Social prescribing link workers give people time, focusing on ‘what matters to me’ and taking an all-round approach to people’s health and wellbeing.

One social prescribing project is Sunderland’s Thriving Communities partnership, who are always looking at ways to push the boundaries when it comes to movement and sport. They know the physical and mental health benefits and have seen first-hand the improvements that physical activity can have on individual and community health.

Sunderland Social Prescribing Manager, Vicki Kennedy says:

“We want to continually challenge the norms around ageing and disability and have been testing creative innovative physical activities for everyone. We’ve programmed silent discos for children with special educational needs and disabilities, dance for those at risk of trips and falls and last year even tried trapeze, laughter yoga and aerial workshops for the elderly! To see the pure joy on the faces of the participants is incredible. A very special moment was seeing Marion, 95, swinging freely from an aerial silk hammock and laughing while suspended in the air for the very first time.”

It isn’t all thrill-seeking activity though, Groundwork- one of the Sunderland Social Prescribing partners uses nature and the outdoors for mindful walks, teaching practical horticulture and landscape skills, supporting people to get involved in their local park and green spaces. Sometimes we can overlook the simple health benefits of walking, taking in nature and being in fresh air and social prescribing looks to make these types of activities part of the solution to peoples health needs.

In Delapre Park in Northampton they are creating a Green Happy Café which will use nature and the outdoors to support physical and mental health.

Dr David Smart, Clinical Director, The General Practice Alliance Federation says:

“As a GP of 30 years exercise taken regularly is one of the best prescription any clinician could prescribe. It can help to prevent illness including cancer and dementia as well as treating issues such as common mood disorder. Personally it’s one of the best things I have found to help with managing my mood. If you can, get more active. Small regular steps taken regularly. Locally we are exploring many options of how to encourage people, where possible, to walk, cycle and generally become more active in partnership with social prescribers and our community. We hope people will explore the beautiful 550 acres of parkland set within Northampton town.”

As part of the Green Social Prescribing project in Plymouth, Argyle Community Trust are currently delivering a range of weekly activities which aim to encourage people from the local community to become more physically active and get back into the great outdoors. These include a Walk & Talk group for older adults who are at risk of isolation, Beginners Bowls sessions, Couch to 5k programme which aims to support people run 5km in 9 weeks, an outdoor Soccercise circuit class which uses footballs to help females exercise, sessions that use sport to engage with Armed Forces Veterans and a school holiday activity club aimed at children who are free school meals or pupil premium.

Argyle Community Trust’s Health and Wellbeing Manager, Ben Kerswell, says:

“Physical activity is vital part of our programme and is being used as a way of getting people back out into the community after lockdown. As well as the obvious health benefits, such as losing weight, it has been found that physical activity has also had a positive impact on participant’s mental health, reducing social isolation and improving their overall wellbeing. We are working closely with the Wolseley Trust, who employ social prescribers that work in partnership with GP practices across Plymouth, who are able to connect people to the project for support to get more active in a safe and friendly environment. It is hoped that a successful Olympic Games from Team GB will further inspire people to get more active this summer.”

Space2 in Leeds are running Seasonal Changes, a slow, sensory walk aimed at exploring the local area, connecting people and paying special attention to abundance in herbs, vegetation and greenery in the area.

Emma Tregidden Joint CEO – Creative says:

“Physical activity and being outdoors are vital in maintaining positive mental health; our slow walks offers both gentle exercise and the chance to observe the natural world with our Community Workers and dedicated nature enthusiasts. We are open to all but our main demographic is those from the local area who may not have the confidence or knowledge to engage in such activities alone.”

At Your Leisure Trust in Dover, Kent they have been working with Harmonia Dementia Village on a broad range of activities for residents. The Thriving Communities Fund will help them continue their dementia friendly swimming sessions.

Sarah Johnson, Community and Funding Manager says:

“Our previous Dementia Friendly swimming sessions provided such positive benefits to our participants. We were so disappointed to have had to stop them due to the pandemic, but we are looking to the future and the Thriving Communities project has given us the resources to begin to plan new sessions for the Autumn. This will enable us to provide an opportunity for people living with dementia to feel the benefits of swimming in a safe and supported environment. The sensation of being in the water promotes relaxation, helps to reduce stress and taking part in a supported group session develops friendships and conversation reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation. Taking part in activity at any age has far reaching benefits to physical and mental wellbeing and for people living with Dementia it is proven to help people retain their ability’s for longer, improving cardiovascular fitness, strength and also helping to maintain cognitive function.”

These are just a few of the 37 projects supported by the NASP’s flagship Thriving Communities Fund.

Along with partners, Arts Council England, Historic England, Money & Pensions Service Natural England, NHS Charities Together, NHS England and NHS Improvement, and Sport England,  NASP have committed £1.8 million to supporting communities to recover from COVID-19.

The Thriving Communities Fund supports local voluntary, community, faith and social enterprise projects that bring together place-based partnerships to improve and increase the range and reach of available social prescribing community activities. The 37 funded projects focus on arts, culture and heritage, nature and green spaces, physical activity, and financial and life advice. Focusing on what works for each individual and community, it supports the National Academy for Social Prescribing’s aims to build relationships, grow the evidence base and share what works, all whilst raising awareness of social prescribing.

James Sanderson, Chief Executive of NASP says:

“We know that sport matters to people and have seen time and time again the amazing impact it has. Social prescribing connects people to community based sport and physical activity groups and opportunities, allowing them to improve health and wellbeing through fun and enjoyable activities. Exercise is something that we all benefit from, and which can help us live healthier and happier lives. ”

To find out more about the Thriving Communities Programme visit the website here.