Derbyshire has secured a £500,000 government funding boost to provide ‘green’ social prescribing, an initiative aimed at improving people’s mental health.

‘Green’ social prescribing is the practice of supporting patients to engage in nature-based activities. This can include activities such as walking, cycling, community gardening and food-growing projects, as well as practical conservation tasks such as tree planting. An example includes prescribing appropriate physical activity to people living with long-term conditions to manage their conditions and improve their mental wellbeing.

Joined Up Care Derbyshire (JUCD) worked with nature organisations to put together and secure a bid to be one of seven ‘Green Social Prescribing Test and Learn’ sites in England.

The project is backed by a partnership involving the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Department of Health and Social Care, Natural England and several other stakeholders.

Louise Swain, who led the bid development process, said the project was important for the people of Derbyshire: “Green prescribing is increasingly important, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic has led to many people having to shield or self-isolate at home this year, which has driven a deeper disconnect between vulnerable communities and accessibility to green spaces.”

Louise is Assistant Director of Integrated Community Commissioning at NHS Derby and Derbyshire Clinical Commissioning Group.

“I am absolutely delighted by the news and want to thank the hard work of all partners in securing this funding. Our collaborative approach allowed us to quickly build a case and develop a bid based on some already innovative green ideas. The bid has enabled green providers, social prescribers, voluntary organisations and community initiatives to come together with health, social care and public health to describe a very exciting test and learn programme that we hope will provide benefits to people in Derby and Derbyshire over the coming months and years.”

Developing the bid brought together expertise from two exemplary programmes. The first was the Wild Wellbeing Alliance, which was developed by Derbyshire Community Health Services, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust (DWT), The Woodland Trust and Sheffield University. It also capitalised on the long-term partnership between the National Forest Company, South Derbyshire District Council, CICs and voluntary sector groups.

Partners and stakeholders involved in developing the Derbyshire proposal for green social prescribing will implement a joined-up approach across the county to support and improve mental wellbeing and health by using and developing green spaces and enabling communities to feel more confident interacting with the natural world.

John Everitt, Chief Executive of National Forest Company, said: “We are excited that the National Forest has the opportunity, through green social prescribing, to develop new ways of improving people’s health through connection with the natural world. Throughout this unprecedented year the National Forest has truly come into its own as a source of support and wellbeing for the 220,000 people who live here, providing woodlands and green spaces on their doorstep. As we emerge from the pandemic, remodelling our healthcare system to make better use of our natural environment will be a great example of a green recovery.”

Dr Jo Smith, chief executive of Derbyshire Wildlife Trust said “We are delighted to be part of this ground breaking project. Spending time in nature has been especially important to so many of us this year. Our wellbeing programmes, delivered in partnership with many other organisations, have been shown to improve mental health and transform lives. Thanks to this new initiative many more people will benefit from the healing powers of nature.”

Michelle Bateman, Chief Nurse at Derbyshire Community Healthcare Services NHS Trust, said: “Mental Health is such an important issue, which has become much more of a concern during the pandemic, so the project will greatly help to increase the support that residents will be able to access.”

Gareth Harry, Director of Business Improvement and Transformation at Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, which provides mental health services across the county, said:

“We are delighted that Derbyshire’s bid has been accepted. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the importance of outdoor activity and exercise to people’s mental and physical wellbeing. This investment in Derbyshire’s green social prescribing will be an opportunity for our community mental health teams to work more collaboratively with ‘green health’ initiatives such as walking groups and gardening projects, and to link into the wider social prescribing networks.”

Read the national position on the green social prescribing test and learn sites.