Pilot programme in Southwark & Merton shows significant need for cross-sector working to support social prescribing

Carly Annable-Coop, programme manager at Performing Medicine, an initiative from charity Clod Ensemble, provides art-based workforce training programmes across the health and social care sector.


As interest, awareness and certainly the need for social prescribing becomes ever more important, as does the need to connect the different professional groups involved, and to facilitate access to a rich array of arts and cultural social prescribing offers, Performing Medicine recently led a successful pilot project across the London boroughs of Southwark and Merton in which we scoped, designed and delivered a workforce development programme for the three professional groups involved in social prescribing of arts and culture, including artists, link workers, and GPs.   


This was a unique and much-needed opportunity for cross-sector learning; and we designed the online programme specifically to address the needs of each professional group, whilst also promoting the efficient facilitation of social prescribing across the two London boroughs.    


Online workshops incorporated presentations, break out tasks, discussion, films, and art and self-care activities.  Whilst the core aims of the programme focused on supporting this complex, cross-sector workforce in developing practical skills, it also helped build a rich inter-professional community who understand each other’s contexts and how to communicate effectively, both with each other and with the people who are being referred to them. 


The pilot programme has proved incredibly successful and includes the introduction of a new framework to help understand the value of prescribing arts and culture in the context of challenging circumstances.  The evaluation indicated a significant need for interprofessional training of this kind nationwide to support the growing social prescribing movement, to connect the different professional groups involved, and to facilitate access to a rich array of arts and cultural social prescribing offers.  


100% of respondents reported that they would use what they had learned on the programme including: prioritising self-care; clarity of inter-professional communication; the importance of networking; and using the newly presented framework to articulate the benefits of arts and cultural activities. 


Participants’ knowledge of the ways that arts and the work of museums, galleries and libraries can be prescribed to patients to improve their health and wellbeing also improved: 83% of participants found the modules useful or very useful, with one link worker stating, “I think I had written off these sorts of [arts-based] groups for some individuals before these sessions. It has made me rethink and reflect on lots of people who I missed an opportunity to refer out to such groups so far.”  


Equally, artists benefited enormously too: “I’ve realised how amazing the linkworkers/social prescribers are and the breadth of need that they are working with.  Also, how much need there is for this work and the strong desire to make this work; everyone wants to find ways of linking up and sharing,” said one artist. 


It is clear that a shift in thinking occurred, with link workers opening up to the potential of creativity and culture, having articulated originally that their focus tends to be on addressing acute needs such as housing, debt and crisis.  While artists developed an understanding of what social prescribing is and how their skills and resources might best meet the needs of clients. 


Performing Medicine’s next steps for the programme is to move beyond Southwark and Merton, to build the community and networks for the rollout of a London-wide social prescribing workforce development programme, incorporating strategies to facilitate greater GP engagement.  We also plan to continue with scoping research to understand the needs, context and challenges for social prescribing across different London boroughs. 


Performing Medicine has received a funding extension from the Greater London Authority to share learnings and we welcome the opportunity to collaborate with boroughs across London that are interested in participating in a social prescribing workforce development programme.  Please get in touch with us to express your interest. 


Performing Medicine, an initiative founded by charity Clod Ensemble, provides art-based training programmes to support mental health and wellbeing. Follow on Twitter 

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Published 16 June 2021

Carly Annable-Coop

Programme Manager

Performing Medicine