Feature: Surrey County Council’s green social prescribing programme

David Greenwood Volunteering and Community Benefits Manager at Surrey County Council explains more about the Surrey Heartlands Green Social Prescribing ‘Test and Learn’ programme which recently won an award.

The Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport (ADEPT) is the voice of place directors who are responsible for providing day to day services including local highways, recycling, waste and planning. Each year, they host the ADEPT President’s Awards, to recognise the achievement of members and partners across the country and Surrey County Council recently won the Shaping Places for People award, sponsored by WSP. 

The ‘Green Social Prescribing Programme’ supports people with different mental health needs to engage with nature-based activities– it links people to nature-based interventions which has been shown to be highly effective in supporting health and mental wellbeing.

Surrey Heartlands Health and Care Partnership successfully bid to be one of seven ‘test and learn’ sites across England and we were awarded £500,000 to run a two-year programme. Colleagues from Surrey County Council Adult Social Care, Environment and other services are working with partners from across Surrey to deliver the programme. The programme is also working with national partners including the Department of Health and Social Care, Natural England and NHS England.

The programme has five objectives: to test how to embed green social prescribing into communities, to improve mental health outcomes, reduce health inequalities, reduce demand on the health and social care system, and develop best practice in making green social activities more resilient and accessible. We are exploring how nature can be used to improve health and wellbeing, with the aim of informing future policy and making the case for green social prescribing.

We’re working with communities across Surrey that experience greater health inequalities, as identified though our Covid-19 Community Impact Assessment. At the same time, we are learning about barriers and enablers that residents experience in relation to accessing nature.

We have funded a number of community led projects through our Nature Connection Fund. Projects have included wild swimming; working with a group of Muslim women and girls to develop a ‘Eco Warrior Project, aimed at forging greater connections with nature; and a ‘Mindful Ninja’ nature-based mindfulness group for teenagers.

Another project that we are introducing to Surrey is ‘Dose of Nature’. This psychologist-led programme uses an innovative approach offering people a 10-week nature prescription.

Based at a National Trust site in Guildford, participants are matched with a trained volunteer nature guide, and together they agree how they will increase nature connection.

Evaluation is an important part of the programme and all seven sites from across the country are working with academic partners to use consistent methods to measure the impact. The results are feeding into the national programme, which is helping to inform national policy and future approaches for green social prescribing.

We’ve had some powerful feedback since we launched the programme and some very positive results, with many new networks and connections being made. For example, participants on the Wild Swimming course reported the benefits as being ‘extraordinary’. It is also highlighting new opportunities that we would like to progress in the future.

Over the course of the programme, we also experienced some challenges. New approaches, coupled with the stretched health sector during Covid 19, meant that engagement with health professionals was initially a challenge. However, as awareness and momentum of the programme has built, these challenges are being overcome with more GPs and link workers referring residents.

The programme is linking to longer term opportunities too. We’re using learning from the programme to help inform health, care and environment strategies. We are also linking to colleagues developing active travel, climate change and place-based approaches to maximise opportunities for health and environment collaboration.

This programme shows the broader value of Place to our communities, one of ADEPT’s priorities for this year. There is real potential for investing more into preventative treatment and green social prescriptions are an effective part of the jigsaw connecting health and environment. The programme has proven so successful that I hope local and national partners choose to invest in green social prescriptions and the programme is rolled out nationwide.

Surrey Heartlands is one of the seven Green Social Prescribing Test and Learn sites in England. To find out more, click here.  

Photos provided by Surrey County Council


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