Connecting Roots: Co-creating a Green Social Prescribing Network in Walsall for Health and Wellbeing

Lead Research Organisation: Royal College of Art
Department Name: School of Design


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. It will be led by the Royal College of Art, in partnership with One Walsall, Active Black Country, The MindKind Projects, and Caldmore Community Garden to deliver a 12-month research programme.

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.


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