Strengthening communities through the power of solidarity and the richness of culture: Social and cultural prescribing in Greece
26 June 2023
Stephanie Tierney and Kamal Mahtani, from the Oxford Social Prescribing Research Network, have been talking to colleagues in Greece about the development of social prescribing in this country. Details about its development are presented in this blog, which has been written by Professor Vasilios Ioakimidis from the University of West Attica.
Since 2010 Greek society has experienced a series of complex crises, from the major financial and social crisis to the ongoing challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the more recent energy and food crises. These crises have severely impacted social services and left lasting scars on the country's social fabric, exacerbating feelings of loneliness and mental health issues among the population. However, Greece also boasts a rich tradition of solidarity, collective responses to social pressures, and spontaneous peer-support initiatives. These are complemented by its significant cultural capital.
It is within this context that the University of West Attica (through the Centre for the Study of Social and Humanitarian Crises) joined forces with two local authorities to design, implement and evaluate the first social and cultural prescribing pilot in the country.
The project will be rolled out in two Local Authorities: the Municipality of Fyli and the Municipality of Nea Smyrni. The University of West Attica will take the lead in implementing and evaluating the project, ensuring that the programme is grounded in sound research while it retains a community based approach and a focus on social inclusion. The selection of these two municipalities, both located within the broader region of Attica, has been made to allow for a more nuanced comparison of findings, as they possess distinct geographic, social, political and demographic characteristics.
Central to the pilot project's ethos are the principles of co-design, co-creation of non-stigmatizing services, and introduction of relaxed enrolment criteria. These guiding principles will help ensure that the programme is both accessible and effective for a diverse range of participants, fostering an inclusive and supportive environment for all. Our collaborative approach ensures that the programme meets the unique needs and priorities of each municipality, whilst also fostering a sense of ownership and engagement among participants.
Relaxed enrolment criteria contribute to the accessibility of the programme, ensuring that a broad range of individuals can benefit from the available services and resources in a non-stigmatising way. It is anticipated that minimizing bureaucratic obstacles will help the pilot project to reach a diverse audience, including those who might not otherwise engage with traditional healthcare or social services.
The implementation of the pilot project in the Municipality of Fyli and the Municipality of Nea Smyrni will provide valuable insights into the effectiveness of social and cultural prescribing in addressing the challenges faced by Greek society, as well as the potential for leveraging the country's rich cultural heritage and traditions of solidarity to enhance individual and community well-being. Through careful evaluation and ongoing collaboration with key stakeholders, the University of West Attica will be able to refine and adapt the programme to ensure its ongoing success and inform the potential expansion of social and cultural prescribing initiatives throughout Greece.
Our approach to implementing the social and cultural prescribing pilot project in the Municipality of Fyli and the Municipality of Nea Smyrni will be multifaceted, ensuring that the programme is comprehensive, effective, and grounded in the principles of co-design and community engagement. The key components of our methodology include:
- Mapping and Mobilization of Community Assets: We will begin by identifying and cataloguing the various resources and assets within each community, such as cultural institutions, local organizations, and venues suitable for hosting activities. This process will involve active engagement with community members and stakeholders to ensure that the resulting inventory reflects the unique strengths and resources of each municipality.
- Needs Assessments: We will conduct thorough assessments of the needs of each community to identify gaps in services and potential opportunities for social and cultural prescribing initiatives. This will involve consultations with healthcare professionals, community organizations, and local residents to gain a comprehensive understanding of the specific challenges and priorities faced by each community.
- Appointment and Training of Link-Workers: To ensure the success of the programme, we will appoint and train dedicated link-workers within each municipality, who will connect individuals with appropriate social and cultural prescribing activities. These link-workers will act as intermediaries between healthcare professionals, community organizations, and programme participants, facilitating access to resources and support.
- Information and Awareness-Raising Campaigns: We will develop and implement targeted campaigns to raise awareness of the social and cultural prescribing programme, highlighting its benefits and the range of available activities and resources. These campaigns will be tailored to each community, utilizing various communication channels and media to reach diverse audiences and promote widespread understanding and acceptance of the programme.
- Development of a Relevant Database and Platform: To facilitate the referral process and streamline the management of the programme, we will develop a user-friendly database and platform that centralizes information about available resources and activities. This system will enable healthcare professionals and link-workers to easily match individuals with appropriate services and track progress, ensuring that the programme is both efficient and effective.
- Implementation: With the groundwork in place, we will launch the social and cultural prescribing programme in each municipality, ensuring that the necessary infrastructure, resources, and personnel are in place to support the initiative. Throughout the implementation process, we will maintain open communication with all stakeholders and actively engage community members to ensure that the programme is responsive to the needs and priorities of each community.
- Evaluation: Finally, we will conduct ongoing evaluations of the pilot project to assess its effectiveness in addressing the challenges faced by Greek society and enhancing individual and community well-being. This evaluation process will involve collecting data on programme outcomes, gathering feedback from participants and stakeholders, and analyzing the impact of the program on the overall health and well-being of the communities involved.
The social and cultural prescribing pilot project in the Municipality of Fyli and the Municipality of Nea Smyrni represents a promising and innovative approach to addressing the complex challenges faced by Greek society. Through the systematic implementation of key components, active engagement of community members, and ongoing evaluation of the programme's impact, the pilot project has the potential to transform the way social and healthcare services are supported and promoted within Greece.
The research team consists of the following members: