Exploring the role of green spaces in social prescribing: A knowledge exchange event
9 November 2022
Green social prescribing connects individuals to nature and open spaces to support their health and well-being. In this blog, Jordan Gorenberg reflects on a knowledge exchange event at the Harcourt Arboretum in Oxford, where green social prescribing offers are being developed. Jordan is currently involved in the link worker project, collecting data from patients about their experiences of social prescribing.
Setting the scene
On a crisp autumn day in October, link workers, researchers and staff from the University of Oxford’s Gardens, Libraries and Museums (GLAM) team gathered at the Harcourt Arboretum to discuss social prescribing at this venue. While we waited for people to arrive, overcast skies and fog lingered in the woods. There was a dampness in the air that was offset by pockets of sunlight piercing through the grey as the fog slowly lifted.
Walking through the Arboretum
When everyone arrived, we took a quick stroll through the woods led by Arboretum Curator, Ben Jones. While walking, the scents and scenery were potent: the smell of wet grass and the contrast of leaves changing colours marking the transition of seasons. I was particularly struck by the aroma of candyfloss, a distinct quality of the katsura tree (pictured below), native to Japan, that the Arboretum has worked to preserve as Ben explained. We ended our walk by going to the Arboretum’s open-sided traditional Woodland Barn where the rest of the meeting took place.
In the mild warmth of the midday sun, Dr Stephanie Tierney presented findings from a study on the cultural sector for older people as part of social prescribing. The themes of messaging, buddying, and accessibility, which came from the research, resonated with attendees, and led to a rich discussion on communication, transportation and volunteering opportunities when providing social prescribing schemes in places like the Arboretum.
Over some much-appreciated tea and coffee, Arboretum staff described being unsure how to let link workers know about social prescribing offers they were planning to put on. Likewise, link workers present said they did not know what offers were available at this venue because there is no repository of social prescribing offers that is continually updated. This underscores the importance of these two groups being able to communicate with one another to know what social prescribing offers are available and to make appropriate referrals.
As biscuits were passed around the group, link workers spoke about being able to make referrals to the Arboretum but added that not every person or group may find it appropriate. This can be due to logistics and budget around transportation, or the accessibility requirements of certain facilities. To this end, link workers and cultural sector staff discussed potential solutions to increase accessibility, such as drawing on volunteers who were willing to drive people to and from the Arboretum. After this discussion, we all went on a second lengthier walk to enjoy the now clearer skies and sunshine. It was a peaceful and convivial atmosphere that enabled Arboretum staff and link workers to talk and get to know one another in the surroundings of this vast green space. The event ended with lunch outdoors, framed by a wealth of nature and the heat of some autumnal sunshine.
Understanding the setting up of green social prescribing offers
Nature-based organisations have a track record of developing activities and support that can form part of a social prescribing offer. Link workers may be able to refer people to these things, if they are relevant to an individual’s needs and preferences. However, there is a lack of research exploring and understanding the experiences of setting up green social prescribing offers. Members of the Oxford Social Prescribing Research Network are planning some research, working with the Arboretum, which will seek to address the following question: What can we learn from this case about setting up a green social prescribing offer?
We will conduct a qualitative study that focuses on the Harcourt Arboretum in Oxford. We will collect data in the form of interviews and focus groups from people who have been part of an activity offered at the Arboretum as part of social prescribing, staff working at the Arboretum, link workers and healthcare professionals. At the end of this project, we hope to have a better understanding of how green social prescribing offers are established. We will share learning from the Arboretum with others considering engaging in such work.
The link worker study mentioned in this blog is funded by a grant from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR130247). The cultural sector study mentioned was funded by UKRI/AHRC (AH/V008781/1). The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the NIHR, the Department of Health and Social Care, the UKRI, or the author’s host institution.
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