Using green social prescribing to prevent and tackle mental ill health

14th May 2021

Lockdown highlighted the impact of green spaces on our mental health and wellbeing – and now researchers are investigating whether prescribing nature can help prevent and tackle mental ill health.

A team of researchers at The University of Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam University, the University of Exeter and the University of Plymouth are working in partnership to evaluate how to deliver green social prescribing. Social prescribing and community-based support enables GPs, other health and care practitioners and local agencies to refer people to a link worker who gives people time and focuses on what matters to the individual. For some people this will be green social prescribing, which links them to nature-based interventions and activities, such as local walking for health schemes, community gardening and food-growing projects.

The evaluation is funded for a total of £887,413 from HMT’s Shared Outcomes Fund, a fund announced by HM Treasury to pilot innovative ways of working that will improve collaboration on priority policy areas that sit across, and are delivered by, multiple public sector organisations to improve outcomes and deliver better value for citizens. The evaluation contract has been awarded by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and will be supported by Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), Natural England, NHS England, Public Health England, Sport England, the National Academy of Social Prescribing (NASP), and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

Throughout the two year funded period, the research consortium will deliver an in depth evaluation across seven test and learn sites targeting communities in England hardest hit by COVID-19. We are helping these sites understand how, and in what ways, their activities can successfully connect people with nature to improve mental health and wellbeing. The team will also take a “lighter touch” approach to evaluating green social prescribing in other areas, helping to boost understanding of how green social prescribing could be scaled up and embedded into practice effectively.

Chris Dayson, Associate Professor in Sheffield Hallam University’s Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research is leading the evaluation for Hallam.

He is also the Healthy and Active 100 research lead for the University’s Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre.

He said: “We are delighted to be involved in such an important project. Our research on social prescribing, which commenced in 2013, has consistently highlighted the need for more investment in effective systems, processes and interventions associated with social prescribing and this programme provides a unique opportunity to evaluate the benefits of doing just that.

“As well as playing a major role in the national evaluation of Green Social Prescribing Sheffield Hallam University, through its Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre (AWRC), is also supporting the local implementation of the South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw Test and Learn site and we look forward to working with national and local partners to explore the mental health benefits of engaging in the natural environment over the next two years.”

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “This pandemic has highlighted the importance of connecting with nature for our health and mental wellbeing. This project will help bring that connection with nature and green spaces to those who need it most.

“This evaluation will ensure that we extract valuable learning which will help us to do even more to improve people’s access to and engagement with nature in the future.”

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