Seven sites which will test the ways in which connecting people with nature can improve mental wellbeing have been awarded a share of a £5.77 million pot, Environment Minister Rebecca Pow has announced this week.
The new test and learn sites, which are based across England, will focus on communities hardest hit by coronavirus. This could include those living in deprived areas, people with mental health conditions or BAME communities. Since the coronavirus pandemic, when many people have experienced distress, loneliness or anxiety, there has been an increased public awareness of the benefits of regular access to green spaces. Studies have shown that this has the potential to improve mental health and wellbeing.
The sites announced today will each explore and bring together opportunities for communities to get involved in their natural environment. This could include activities such as walking, cycling, community gardening and food-growing projects, and practical conservation tasks such as tree planting. For people who need help to get involved this could include supported visits to local green spaces, waterways and the coast, and other outdoor activities to reduce isolation and loneliness.
The government say this will benefit thousands of people across the country, including people in urban, rural and coastal areas. The successful projects are:
- Humber Coast and Vale Health and Care Partnership
- South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw Integrated Care System
- Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Integrated Care System
- Joined Up Care Derbyshire Sustainability and Transformation Partnership
- Greater Manchester Health & Social Care Partnership
- Surrey Heartlands Health and Care Partnership
- Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Sustainability and Transformation Partnership
Today’s announcement builds on the fund announced in July by Environment Secretary, George Eustice supported by a cross-governmental partnership of Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Department of Health and Social Care, Natural England, NHS England, Public Health England, and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, and welcoming two new partners: Sport England and the National Academy for Social Prescribing (NASP). A further £1.5 million has been confirmed today, boosting the total to £5.77 million and supporting more sites across the country.
This will support the Green Social Prescribing programme, which is the practice of supporting patients to engage in nature-based activities, and play an important role in the nation’s recovery as we build back better and greener. If successful, the test and learn sites could be rolled out across the country.
Environment Minister, Rebecca Pow, said:
Evidence from Natural England shows that almost half the population say that they are spending more time outside than before the pandemic, while the majority of adults surveyed by Forest Research agreed that their level of happiness when in nature has increased. However, the outbreak also has exacerbated health inequalities and levels of mental ill health whilst also highlighting the inequalities of access to greenspaces.
Chief Executive of Natural England, Marian Spain, said:
The projects will be managed by NHS England and NHS Improvement with support from Defra, Department of Health and Social Care, Natural England, Public Health England, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, NASP and Sport England.
Health Minister, Jo Churchill, said:
The seven successful test and learn sites will run for over two years.
This week’s announcement builds on the government’s commitment to transform mental health services and increase social prescribing, set out in the NHS Long Term Plan and supported through the work of the National Academy for Social Prescribing.
The government say their 25 Year Environment Plan sets out an ambition to help more people, from all backgrounds, to engage with and spend time in green and blue spaces in their everyday lives, and the landmark Environment Bill will put the environment at the centre of policy making to ensure that we have a cleaner, greener and more resilient country for the next generation.
The green social prescribing pilots are being taken forward as part of HMT’s £200m Shared Outcomes Fund, a fund announced by HM Treasury to pilot innovative ways of working that will improve collaboration on priority policy areas that sit across, and are delivered by, multiple public sector organisations to improve outcomes and deliver better value for citizens. HMT have approved a grant of £4.27 to this programme of work. Additional funding and support has now been given by NHSE, NASP and Sport England.