Your GP can prescribe you an arts activity or even a dance class

A smiling older woman with a younger woman seated at a table. They are taking part in an arts activity

‘Social Prescribing’ is a system where healthcare professionals are able to refer patients to local, non-clinical services to meet their wellbeing needs. What you can take part in will depend on what’s available locally, and how local services work together.

In some areas, a GP or nurse might refer you to a ‘link worker’ – someone who meets with you to find out what you need, what you’d like to do, and then puts you in touch with a local organisation or group that can provide it. In other areas, the healthcare professional might put you directly in contact with a local group or organisation.

A group of older people at a table knitting and sewing

In reality, you may well have come across social prescribing in action without necessarily knowing that’s what it was. For example, if you’ve been to the GP with concerns about your weight and they’ve given you a voucher for the local swimming pool – that’s social prescribing.

Social prescribing has been getting more attention in the world of health and social care, as it’s increasingly being recognised that people are attending healthcare services with non-medical needs, such as social isolation and loneliness. Recent studies have found that 20% of patients seen by GPs report a problem which is social rather than medical.

In a time where healthcare services are under increasing pressure, we need a new approach to supporting those in need of social connections.

Sense’s approach to social prescribing

At Sense, we believe that group arts and sports activities are key to unlocking communities and opening up opportunities for those who are socially isolated. Over the years, we’ve run a number of social prescribing projects that have made exercise, sports, arts and other social activities accessible to older people – and these projects have been proven to have positive impacts on those who’ve attended.

A smiling older man and woman sitting together looking at a book of paintings and illustrations

Alongside the delivery of arts and sports activities such as textiles, pottery and yoga, which are delivered in partnership with local artists and experts, Sense brings our expertise in complex communication needs. We tailor our sessions to make them accessible, and support local professionals to meet the needs of people with complex communication needs in the sessions that they run.

An older woman and younger woman smiling, seated together taking part in an arts activity

Social prescribing is more than just delivering activities and sessions for a number of weeks; it’s about having a lasting impact on the people who attend.

This is why we try to deliver some of our social prescribing sessions in a local community setting, such as a museum, so attendees might discover somewhere new they can visit outside of the program. It’s why we support people to use public transport networks to attend our sessions, so they can build and develop new skills and confidence. It’s why we offer previous attendees the chance to volunteer on the next program, and it’s why we’re delighted that many of our groups continue to meet up socially once the program is over.

The social prescribing approach is central to TouchBase Pears, our new multipurpose community venue in Birmingham. Delivering social  programs in this location will bring lots of community opportunities; from meeting with fellow attendees in the café, to volunteering in the children’s library, or even discovering a new part of Birmingham, such as the canal path walk close to TouchBase Pears.


Find out more about Sense’s Arts, Sport and Wellbeing projects

How to make yoga accessible for people with visual and hearing impairments

Sarah White

Author: Sarah White

Sarah White is the Head of Public Policy and Campaigns at Sense.

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