During a challenging couple of years, where many individuals and communities have been facing tough times, those working in social prescribing have really demonstrated their value and impact by changing lives – in small ways and big ways.

The 36 social prescribing projects funded by the Thriving Communities Fund (from National Academy for Social Prescribing and Arts Council England, Historic England and Natural England, NHS England and Improvement, Sport England, the Money and Pensions Service and NHS Charities Together) have delivered innovative and varied activities and programmes that are making a real difference to people’s lives. From walking football to aerial silks, bicycle-powered Shakespeare to art lessons, financial wellbeing workshops and cooking classes, they have supported people with both mental and physical health.

Take Wonder Women, an empowering project set up by Peterborough Council for Voluntary Services’ Women’s Forum. It included a series of creative art workshops hosted by arts organisation Metal with intuitive artist Sa’adiah Khan. The workshops were well attended, providing attendees the opportunity to meet each other and engage in conversation, while experimenting with various forms of art making.

The women enjoyed exploring messy art, being playful, learning new skills and having fun with various materials. Being creative while spending time connecting to others in a safe and friendly environment proved a real boost to their mental health and wellbeing. Participants enjoyed “making art without pressure” and found it a good outlet to express themselves, in a safe environment.

Robin Hood Health run tailored social prescribing to reach 100 residents to improve physical and mental health and wellbeing, alongside support for artists and creatives. One of their most challenged clients, who lives with severe and enduring mental health concerns and who has experienced homelessness, said: “Thank you for all your help this year. You took so much weight from me that I had no energy to carry, and gave a friendly voice to help me get through and overcome some difficult obstacles and times.”

Sunderland Culture have been working with older adults with dementia. Lucy Abraham, Marketing and Communications Coordinator, said: “With thanks to Thriving Communities, our Creative Age groups in Sunderland have been able to continue. Each week, people with dementia and their current or past carers get together to work alongside creative artists to produce new work, try new skills and connect together in a safe environment.”

One of the members said: “This is the only time in the week I laugh. I don’t know what I would do without this group, the chance to be creative and supported by each other.”

It’s been great to see the impact that Thriving Communities Fund projects have had. An interim evaluation of the project in September showed that positive progress was being made, particularly given the challenges created by COVID-19.

  • More than half of projects (53%) reported working with new partners as a result of the Fund
  • 71% of people who were referred to projects attended, and 65% of participants attended at least two-thirds of sessions.
  • The evaluation identified challenges, including variable knowledge about social prescribing among practitioners and members of local communities.
  • It also highlighted the opportunities at a strategic and operational level for more joined up working, and the importance of creating better links between GPs, link workers, social care, local authority projects and the voluntary sector.

Joshua Ryan, Head of the Thriving Communities Programme says:

“Thriving Communities demonstrates the value of local organisations from different sectors working together and connecting with the health system to change lives. As we continue to deal with the impacts of COVID, the 36 projects Thriving Communities has funded are doing fantastic work supporting thousands of people with health, confidence, skills and more, at the same time as challenging health inequalities. The partnerships that have been built as part of the programme will leave a legacy for the future, so that more people are supported through the power of social prescribing.”

For more information about the Thriving Communities Fund and the interim evaluation report from Wavehill see the Thriving Communities Fund – emerging findings.