For many, lockdown has highlighted the impact of green spaces on our mental health and wellbeing – and now researchers are investigating whether prescribing nature can help prevent and tackle mental ill health.
Now a team of researchers from the University of Sheffield Sheffield Hallam University, the University of Exeter and the University of Plymouth are working in partnership to evaluate how to deliver green social prescribing.
The two year funded project will run across seven different areas focused on communities in England hardest hit by COVID-19.
Social prescribing and community-based support helps GPs, other health and care practitioners and local agencies to refer people to a link worker who gives people time and focuses on what matters to the individual.
For some people this will be green social prescribing, which links them to nature-based interventions and activities, such as local walking for health schemes, community gardening and food-growing projects.
Annette Haywood, the University of Sheffield lead, said the South Yorkshire city was perfectly placed to test out the scheme.
She said: “As one of the UK’s top 10 greenest cities, situated on the edge of one of England's most beautiful national parks, we are excited to be involved in this evaluation of Green Social Prescribing.
"It will help deliver on the Government’s ambition to enable more people, from all backgrounds, to engage with and spend time in green and blue spaces in their everyday lives."
"This is particularly important in the context of COVID-19, which has had an unprecedented impact on the nation’s mental health and wellbeing.”
As part of the project a range of activities that can connect people with nature to improve mental health and wellbeing will be launched across the seven different areas.
For the future the team has a long term aim to scale up green social prescribing nationwide.
Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “This pandemic has highlighted the importance of connecting with nature for our health and mental wellbeing.
"This project will help bring that connection with nature and green spaces to those who need it most.
"This evaluation will ensure that we extract valuable learning which will help us to do even more to improve people’s access to and engagement with nature in the future."
The £887,000 funding for the scheme was awarded by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
The project is supported by the Department of Health and Social Care, Natural England, NHS England, Public Health England, Sport England, the National Academy of Social Prescribing, and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
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