Green Social Prescribing

Collin Park Woods - Nathan Millar

Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust’s Head of Engagement and Learning, Lorna Fox, has been deeply involved in health and wellbeing in the natural environment work for the last 20 years. Here she outlines how important it is for the organisation and the county.

Introduction

This autumn, DEFRA and NHS England released a call for projects with a funding pot of £2 million to support green social prescribing. As a result, Gloucestershire’s Local Nature Partnership and the county’s Clinical Commissioning Group convened a consortium - ranging from natural environment organisations to city, district and county councils - to work together on a green social prescribing offer for Gloucestershire. Gloucestershire’s ‘Expression of Interest’ has been successfully shortlisted, one of 15 out of 55 across England, and the consortium has now submitted a full proposal.

For Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, mental and physical health interventions are rapidly becoming part of our DNA. The organisation’s natural solutions are a cornerstone of its strategy and  contribute to keeping people happy and healthy, whilst at the same time creating and improving habitat for wildlife. Those who participate in our outdoor health programmes have proven better access to, understanding and appreciation of nature as well as having evidenced improved health and wellbeing.

In addition, for Gloucestershire’s Clinical Commissioning Group, prevention, early intervention and self-care are key priorities in Gloucestershire’s Integrated Care System (ICS). There is ambition locally and nationally to increase focus on preventing illness, intervening early and helping people to manage conditions themselves where they can. There are considerable benefits for Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and the NHS in demonstrating the contribution of the natural environment.

In this time of national crisis, with a global pandemic significantly disrupting our daily lives, and the increase of mental health issues across the UK as a result of self-isolation and lockdown, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust have identified staying connected to nature, more so now than ever, as a vital tool in addressing Gloucestershire’s health.

Couple walking - Ben Hall/2020VISION

Couple walking - Ben Hall/2020VISION

What do we know?

There is now a wealth of evidence on the benefits of the natural environment to humans’ general health and wellbeing. Both published and non-published literature has been produced globally on mental and physical health issues and the benefit of staying connected to nature. A wealth of non-published evidence has been produced in the UK on projects that worked on prevention through various intervention schemes.

In addition, research such as Mathew White’s 2019 report on connecting with the outdoors highlights the mood enhancement connecting to nature can provide. The University of Derby’s ongoing research piece (2020), taking into account large populations across the UK, evidences nature connectedness as being vital to our national health and wellbeing. It cites connections from viewing nature through our window or on a TV screen, to planting up pots or gardens, observing nature on our doorstep or being fully immersed in nature as all important ways to wellbeing.

Gardening with wildlife - Tom Marshall

Gardening with wildlife - Tom Marshall

What do we do?

‘Our Bright Future’ is an ambitious and innovative partnership led by The Wildlife Trusts nationally, which brings together the youth and environmental sectors. This £33 million programme, funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, is formed of 31 projects across the UK. Each project is helping young people aged 11-24 gain vital skills and experience and improve their wellbeing. At the same time, they act as catalysts for delivering change for their local environment and community; whilst contributing to a greener economy. Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust has delivered an Our Bright Future project over five years, engaging 11-24 year olds in the natural environment, addressing anxiety and depression and creating opportunities for young people across the county. Our Bright Future has engaged with 6,355 young people in Gloucestershire alone. 100% of participants in the project in Gloucestershire stated they learnt more about their local environment and the project contributed significantly to one of their Five Ways to Wellbeing.

In partnership with Gloucestershire’s Local Nature Partnership, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust delivered one of the first NHS commissioned projects for physical health in nature, ‘Nature on Prescription’ supported and enhanced participants’ fitness and self-management to prevent further cardiovascular episodes, with additional impacts on improving wider health and wellbeing, addressing issues of social isolation, anxiety and depression, as well as enhancing Gloucestershire’s green spaces for the long-term benefit of people and wildlife.

Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust’s ‘Brighter Futures’ projects, funded by the Police and Crime Commissioner for Gloucestershire, were a series of 8-week courses delivered across Gloucestershire to socially isolated, unemployed and those with mild learning difficulties. Of 199 people completing the courses, 81% demonstrated meaningful mental wellbeing improvements as measured by the Warwick Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS) with 71% of those also reporting a reduction in social isolation.

In addition, at Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, a project called ‘Garden Mentors’ ran for three years in the Tewkesbury Borough area, part funded by Severn Vale Housing Society (SVHS). SVHS identified residents who were struggling to look after their gardens due to ill health, age or disability. At the end of the project, SVHS had a waiting list of residents wanting to join Garden Mentors. GWT found local volunteers to help look after the gardens in return for learning more about gardening for wildlife, and wildlife in general. An objective of the project was for the volunteers to form a bond with the resident and to offer garden support outside of the visits with GWT; residents were also encouraged to be able and willing to work between visits themselves, or with support from family and friends. Over the three years, a total of 184 garden visits were made, there were 610 volunteer hours spent, one training garden was set up in Priors Park, Tewkesbury, with one communal space improved. The visits were a great source of social interaction between GWT, the volunteer and the resident. The residents reported feeling better about their gardens and in themselves. 

Planting wildlife friendly plants - Katrina Martin / 2020VISION

Planting wildlife friendly plants - Katrina Martin / 2020VISION

The time is now

We are in the fortunate position now of having the potential to work with esteemed colleagues across the county, in co-creation and true partnership, to deliver on green social prescribing for Gloucestershire. The combination of passion and experience, as well as a wealth of evidence on the benefits of the natural environment to all of our health and wellbeing, spurs us on to deliver a piece that is transformational for the county. We hope, at Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, we are successful. Whatever the outcome, we will be determined to continue to deliver on mental and physical health and wellbeing benefits using the natural environment for the benefit of all across Gloucestershire. 

Swift Hill & Laurie Lee Wood - Nathan Millar

Swift Hill & Laurie Lee Wood - Nathan Millar