Since its launch in March, Nature for Health, which is managed by the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, has established initiatives in five ‘test and learn’ sites, and begun to share learning across the region and nationally.
Two projects welcomed the national visitors ahead of World Mental Health Day on 10 October to show how they are improving community mental health and wellbeing in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sow the City’s delivery partner Plattfields Market Garden is piloting food growing schemes with the most deprived communities in Manchester, providing both social activity and access to free healthy food.
Lancashire Wildlife Trust is testing what kind of activities best attract those most in need in Bury. In Philips Park, they enjoy a range of seasonal activities from bush craft, practical conservation and small carpentry tasks, to mindfulness, survey skills and nature walks.
All ‘Nature for Health’ initiatives are building on Greater Manchester’s already well-established social prescribing offer to engage with individuals most at risk of developing poor mental health and create the activities and support they need, whilst making the most of the natural environment.
Vinny, aged 68, was referred to Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s Myplace sessions in Philips Park via the link worker from Bury’s Social Prescribing team, the Beacon Service. He was struggling with depression and was accessing other local mental health support with Healthy Minds. Vinny also has physical difficulties, including a brain injury which affects his memory. He is a carer for his daughter who has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and is a committed family man with other children and grandchildren, so there is a lot of demand on his time which is both mentally and physically tiring.
“Participating in the group has done more for me than taking more medication, I have learnt so much in a short time and it has helped me realise I have skills that I have forgotten. It has definitely improved my mental health and well-being and I enjoy meeting and chatting with other group members, as well as sharing our skills and knowledge.”
Jon Grace, Nature for Health Manager at the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership said:
“We know far too many people are feeling anxious, unhappy and not satisfied with life. We also know that many of us find green space hugely important to our health and wellbeing.
“Greater Manchester’s green providers, social prescribers, voluntary organisations and community initiatives are coming together with health, social care and public health to ‘test and learn’ together, helping us connect many more people with nature-based activities to support their health and wellbeing.”
“The potential is huge to improve mental health, reduce health inequalities, reduce demand on the health and social care system, and to make green social activities more accessible to everyone in the city-region”.
Amanda Craig, Director – People and Nature, Natural England said of the visit to Greater Manchester’s sites: “It has been a truly inspirational day: meeting individuals who are coordinating and delivering social prescriptions, hearing personal stories from those taking part and seeing for ourselves the impact from these initiatives in bringing people together to improve and enjoy the outdoors across Greater Manchester. We have heard so much during Covid about the importance of nature for people’s mental health and seeing these test and learn sites get underway is a major step forward, they have the potential to be transformative, to people’s lives, their health, their communities and to the recovery of nature in our towns and cities.”
Nicola Gitsham, Head of Social Prescribing NHS England and NHS Improvement said:
“Social prescribing link workers connect people to local community groups and support based on what matters to the person to improve their health and wellbeing. It is inspiring to see how social prescribing link workers, green providers and local communities in Greater Manchester are working together to increase access to nature for health. Green Social Prescribing presents a great opportunity to offer non clinical solutions to tackle and prevent mental ill health. This is needed more than ever to address mental health and health inequalities post pandemic and build people’s confidence to participate in their local communities again.”
Jon Ross, Director, Sow the City, said:
“We believe community food growing is a hugely powerful type of green prescription. Our Nature for Health service is running in partnership with seven community gardens in Manchester. It provides access to nature but crucially in also provides healthy and free food, improved diet, and reduced carbon emissions from zero food miles food production. We are working with some of the most disadvantaged communities in the city providing nature and healthy food for people that need it most.”
Rhoda Wilkinson, Lancashire Wildlife Trust Nature and Wellbeing Manager, said:
“We have witnessed the impact that being in nature can have on people’s wellbeing. We are living through unprecedented times of both climate and ecological crisis, and of health crisis. We believe that aligning the two and introducing people to the impact nature can have on their lives by becoming active in natures recovery is critical. Green Social Prescribing is an opportunity to open up and link people with their local natural world and their community, impacting people and nature’s recovery.”
Greater Manchester Nature for Health’ is one of seven national ‘green social prescribing programmes’ testing and learning how we can best connect people with nature for their mental wellbeing. Greater Manchester’s local and regional learnings will inform the development of regional nature-based social prescribing services and national policy at the end of the two year pilot in 2023.