James Sanderson, our CEO, and Jeremy Hughes, Royal Voluntary Service, reflect on how our new programme, Accelerating Innovation, seeks to work with national voluntary organisations alongside the NHS, local authorities and local groups to release resources that can help more people benefit through social prescribing.
We are facing unprecedented physical and mental health demands as we continue to meet the challenges of COVID-19 and its recovery. In working more closely together and alongside the NHS, local authorities and local groups, national voluntary organisations can release enormous resources of people, places and expertise. The Accelerating Innovation in Social Prescribing Programme helps ensure we deliver on that potential.
National voluntary organisations have much to contribute through their people, their places and the services they provide. Not all have sufficiency of all these assets. A key part of the Accelerating Innovation Programme will be connecting national organisations to provide more than they can individually.
Volunteers are key to social prescribing and over 4.6m people became first time volunteers to help in the COVID-19 response (Source: British Future). To inspire these new volunteers to keep involved, organisations will need to rethink their approach and many have already started to do so. Our Programme will help organisations learn together in developing ways to engage new volunteers. These may come from COVID responders or from organisations like Rotary who have over 45,000 members.
Some organisations can offer places for others to deliver activities. With thousands of buildings and green spaces in diverse communities nationwide, the Church of England is one. They are part ‘Places of Welcome’: Over 450 places opening their doors and offering a free cup of tea and a biscuit, a chance to meet other people, and find out what voluntary groups have to offer. The English Football League is another we are involving. With club facilities all over the country, sport organisations have an important role in bringing people together, creating a sense of belonging and reducing loneliness.
Many national charities have unrivalled expertise offering advice and support to thousands everyday. Some are well known, such as Macmillan Cancer Support, Stroke Association and Versus Arthritis. But many others are not. We have spoken to organisations as varied as the Lupus Trust, Angling Trust and Lullaby Trust all of whom have more to offer. This Programme can boost their reach.
Many national voluntary organisations want to connect better to the NHS. Strong local connections, for example with Social Prescribing Link Workers, were often not replicated at the CCG or ICS level. The Accelerating Innovation Programme is a forum for better understanding of commissioner expectations and what organisations can provide.. It will also promote what so many national charities do well but is seldom recognised: using their reach and resource to support the development of sustainable local community organisations. A good example here is how Rethink are supporting ‘Open Mental Health’ in Somerset.
By joining the Accelerating Innovation Programme, you’ll be able to bring the benefits of social prescribing to more people across diverse communities nationwide. Find out more on how you can get involved via our website.
James Sanderson is CEO of the National Academy for Social Prescribing
Jeremy Hughes is a consultant working with Royal Voluntary Service who has more than thirty years experience working at a senior level in national health and care focused voluntary organisations.