Co-creating a green social prescribing network in Walsall for health and wellbeing
Connecting Roots is a 12-month project funded by AHRC (AH/X000060/1) that uses design to support the scaling of green social prescribing services in Walsall. It is led by Dr Qian Sun, Reader in Service Design, Policy & Social Innovation at the Royal College of Art, in partnership with One Walsall, Active Black Country, The MindKind Projects, and Caldmore Community Garden.
At a glance
- The Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector is integral to the implementation of green social prescribing and delivers the majority of the green social prescribing services to local communities.
- Significant barriers exist for many VCSEs acting alone to scale, and we aim to learn what these are in the specific location so we can help local people to address them.
- This project uses design to develop a holistic, collaborative, and human-centred approach to creating the right conditions to best support scaling local green social prescribing.
Spending time in nature supports both mental and physical health and has been one of the key factors enabling people to cope with the stress of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is associated with a sense of gratitude and self-worth and can help people recover from stress and mental illness. This kind of experience with nature also helps to build a sense of place and community and foster feelings of belonging. GPs, nurses and other healthcare professionals can now prescribe nature-based activities, such as walking for health schemes and community gardening, to those who could benefit from them. This is called green social prescribing. There is growing NHS support to use it more widely, particularly for those with poor access to healthcare who often also access nature less.
The Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector delivers the majority of the green social prescribing services to local communities in the UK. These VCSEs are faced with challenges to grow so that a greater proportion of those in need can benefit from what nature offers. Following the Covid-19 pandemic, VCSE organisations are experiencing greater demand for their services.
Significant barriers exist for many VCSEs acting alone to scale. Collaboration with each other provides one avenue toward much-needed growth in order to reduce fragmentation, duplication and inefficiency. It helps improve the collective impact of the sector and its sustainability, and creates many mutual benefits including providing access to expertise and resources, increasing reach, and improving internal processes.
Our aim is to use design to support the scaling of green social prescribing services through (i) envisaging a system that creates the right conditions to best support scaling local green social prescribing at the system level; (ii) co-creating a green social prescribing network with local VCSEs in Walsall that improve the sector's collective impact and give voice to those who have been less heard. From the learning, we will (iii) devise the methods and make them widely available through engagement and dissemination.
We have recognised the importance of a genuinely bottom up and place-based approach that considers the totality of local assets, including the realities of the physical locality and local lived experience. Therefore, through design, this project will engage people in an open dialogue that enables more diverse insights on the needs of different stakeholders to be shared and opens new avenues for developing visions, bottom-up policies and collaboration amongst these local VCSEs.
This project will focus on Walsall as an example representing many deprived regions in the UK where public health is challenged by issues e.g. health inequality and physical inactivity that could potentially be addressed effectively through green social prescribing.
The main outcomes of the project are:
(i) a system vision and policy recommendations to support scaling green social prescribing;
(ii) a green social prescribing network in Walsall to support VCSEs to grow so that nature-based activities can benefit more people in need;
(iii) methods and processes to scale VCSEs in green social prescribing through design that can be widely adopted.
The MindKind Projects is a lottery-funded CIC that was established in 2019 to support the wellbeing of residents in and around Walsall. They provide mental health support through training, coaching, mentoring and user-controlled peer supported groups. Specialising in community based action research, they strive to ensure services are designed, co-produced and continuously reviewed to meet the needs of Walsall residents with respect to the mental health agenda.
One Walsall is an organisation aiming to promote any charitable purpose for the benefit of the public, principally but not exclusively in the Metropolitan Borough of Walsall and its surrounding districts (the "area of benefit") and, in particular, to build the capacity of Third Sector organisations and provide them with the necessary support, information and services to enable them to pursue or contribute to any charitable purpose.
Caldmore Community Garden is a community space in the centre of one of Walsall’s most multicultural neighbourhoods. Aside from everyday growing and maintenance of the volunteer-run garden, it has a varied calendar of events and activities created with and for residents of Walsall. Set up originally on a piece of derelict land, their aim is to provide a safe, calm, open and free space for people to come and meet one another, connect with the earth, grow food, and learn new skills.
Active Black Country is a small committed partnership, operating as the strategic lead for Sport and Physical Activity across the Black Country region. It aims to change people’s lives through the power of sport and physical activity across the most deprived areas of the Black Country, enabling residents to have healthier, happier lives. Their approach focuses on preventative measures, like physical activity, to improve societal health and wellbeing.