New sites to test how connecting people with nature can improve mental health

A new project aims to improve people’s mental health through ‘green social prescribing’ announces successful applicants.

In July 2020, Environment Secretary George Eustice announced a £4million investment for a cross-government project aimed at ‘Preventing and tackling mental ill health through green social prescribing’.

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.

As part of the project, the Government invited Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) and Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships (STPs) leads to submit expressions of interest to become a ‘test and learn’ site for the project.

Seven sites will receive a share of over £5.5m pot to research how nature can be used to improve mental health and wellbeing. 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

The test and learn site aims to test how to increase use and connectivity to green social prescribing in England in order to improve mental health outcomes, reduce health inequalities, and reduce demand on the health and social care system.

Environment Minister, Rebecca Pow, said: “Many of us have seen first-hand during this difficult time the benefit that connecting with nature can have on our health and mental wellbeing, and I am delighted to announce the first sites for this inspiring scheme which will improve people’s access to and engagement with nature and green spaces.”
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: “Natural England’s evidence has made clear that nature is good for our health.

“For many years we’ve been working closely with our health professional colleagues to make sure we can create a healthy society, which is even more important as part of a green recovery to help everybody cope with the long term impacts of the restrictions on day to day life necessitated by the coronavirus.”

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.

The seven successful test and learn sites will run for over two years.

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.

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