SOCIAL PRESCRIBING – CURING LONELINESS IN OUR DISTANCING SOCIETY

By Nicholl Hardwick, for The Grow Organisation

In contemporary Britain, our lives are pervaded with unique health and economic pressures. Capitalism, globalisation, Brexit and the internet have all contributed to a new era of loneliness, community isolation and disconnectedness. We may go days at a time without speaking or having sentimental engagement with another person. In particular, elderly members of the community frequently fall to the wayside as our distancing society ceases to encourage them to function as active participants.

Social Prescribing is a mode of care employed by multiple communities across the UK to combat this unsettling problem. The University of Westminster defines Social Prescribing as:

“a means of enabling GPs and other frontline healthcare professionals to refer patients to a link worker – to provide them with a face to face conversation during which they can learn about the possibilities and design their own personalised solutions, i.e. ‘co-produce’ their ‘social prescription’, so that people with social, emotional or practical needs are empowered to find solutions which will improve their health and wellbeing, often using services provided by the voluntary and community sector.”

Towns such as Frome in Somerset have set up a directory of agencies and community groups to identify the gaps where people were struggling to receive help. They then connected these people to the services they required – anything from debt advice to a choir group to sing with. As George Monbiot put it in The Guardian, “The point was to break a familiar cycle of misery: illness reduces people’s ability to socialise, which leads in turn to isolation and loneliness, which then exacerbates illness”.

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The Grow Organisation run a wide variety of outdoor activities. Image courtesy of The Grow Organisation

Communities that have committed to Social Prescribing have seen dramatic drops in emergency hospital admissions and GP visits, some as much as 17%. With NHS hospitals and surgeries so under-resourced and understaffed at present, this can come as a great relief to both overworked staff members and patients in need of acute, immediate medical attention.

Social prescribing is being taken up locally in Norfolk as well. The Grow Organisation is a social enterprise based in Bowthorpe that aims to reconnect and help people with mental health issues, including those who suffer from PTSD. Our focus is always on the individual and their progress. We want the change participants make to be self-sustainable and appropriate for them, and specialise in working with individuals facing multiple barriers to social inclusion, such as physical and mental health issues, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, financial debt and social isolation. We deliver inspirational and life changing wellbeing activities and courses including horticultural therapy, diet and nutrition courses, personal finance advice and outdoor activities.

Together, we can offer the support and encouragement someone needs to step back into the community

These services are often a lifeline for participants. A friendly face and a cup of tea in a safe and relaxed environment can be the incentive those feeling isolated need to break the cycle of loneliness. We believe that reconnecting people with food and the natural environment increases our general health and wellbeing and strengthens our communities, as well as helping to preserve our natural resources. We run many outdoor activities that draw on this belief, but we understand that our services aren’t for everyone. There’s no pressure on any individual to use these services. More community groups and enterprises exist here in Norfolk – vulnerable people just need to know where they are so they can access their services. Referrals, communication and sharing of knowledge between community groups, GP’s, care homes and schools are key. Together, we can offer the support and encouragement someone needs to step back into the community and towards future employment, when they are ready to do so.

Awareness of the needs and contributions of others, and the ability to maintain effective relationships both at work and in the family, are vital in today’s society. By putting people first we can help create positive and sustainable social change, achieving a better, safer and more secure future for everyone. At The Grow Organisation, experience has taught us that you can’t treat an individual or a problem in isolation; you have to look at the wider picture. It is from the seed of this knowledge that we grow our culture of teamwork, peer mentoring and coaching. Our approach is geared towards tackling issues at the roots, learning how to identify strengths and develop personal goals, and enabling people to live independent lives.

As Deborah Orr put it recently, “the threat of loneliness is hardwired into modern life”. Isolation and community disconnectedness are insidious and ever-present in contemporary society. Social Prescribing provides a way in which we can bridge the gap between loneliness and hope as a community, whilst at the same time reducing the pressure on NHS facilities.

For more information about The Grow Organisation, visit their website. If you are interested in volunteering, email info@thegroworganisation.org. The Grow Organisation are also participating in Tesco Bags of Help, and would really appreciate your vote next time you are in a Tesco Norwich store.

Featured image courtesy of The Grow Organisation


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