Connection over Medication: Green Social Prescribing

Nature-based activities tackling the double inequalities-whammy of access to green space and COVID-19.

3 Minute Read
By Michaela Howell, Head of Communities at Groundwork Greater Manchester 

It has been a difficult, often traumatic, year for most of us as we learn to look after our health and wellbeing in new and different ways. As we cautiously move forward and take part in social activities in small groups, is a greater connection to the natural world through Greater Manchester’s Green Social Prescribing Project the medication so many have been missing all along?

Poor mental health due to a lack of social interaction has increased community groups ‘need’ by 67%

Whilst many of us have fallen in love with our local green-spaces, proving to be a haven from the recent stresses of life, we know that not everyone has nearby access to them despite their convenience being associated with improved mental health. We also know that communities who experience racism are more likely to live in urban areas with little access to quality green-spaces and, without this natural buffer to everyday pressures, are disproportionately affected by environmental conditions which evoke stress and adversely affect our health and wellbeing. 

Community Implications

Emerging evidence suggests that in general people who were experiencing inequalities and poorer health before COVID-19 are likely to be most adversely affected and that health inequalities have widened in some instances. In a recent report for the IFS Working Paper, James Banks and Xiaowei Xu note that ‘the pandemic seems to have widened health inequalities, with the groups that had the poorest mental health pre-crisis also having had the largest deterioration in mental health during lockdown.’

In conjunction to this, Public Health England highlighted ‘The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected people from BAME communities, who currently have higher rates of infection and death than the non-BAME population’, in a recent review into how different factors have affected COVID-19 risk and outcomes.

1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem  in any given week in England – Mind Charity

Greater Manchester’s Green Social Prescribing Project is therefore very timely and most welcome. It aims to prevent and tackle mental ill-health and reduce health inequalities through the application of nature based activities – but how and where will it be applied?

‘Green Social Prescribing’ is happening already across Greater Manchester with some success. Utilising link-workers, participants referred into the current scheme are given time to explore what matters to them and their interests, connecting to community groups for practical and emotional support. But, it is often fragmented and unequal; those suffering the greatest health inequalities are the least likely to benefit. This project is an opportunity to scale the current offer up to increase access for our most disadvantaged groups, whilst also addressing our city’s climate and ecological emergency. 

A Collaborative Approach

Greater Manchester Health & Social Care Partnership has selected four grass roots partnership projects to build on the current offer and support areas that have been disproportionally affected by COVID-19.

  • Sow the City are piloting food growing schemes with some of the most deprived communities in Manchester, providing both social activity and access to free healthy food – something Groundwork Greater Manchester is proudly supporting alongside them at Crumpsall Park.
  • Petrus are providing opportunities such as nature activity kits, cycling, walks, outdoor exercises and education in Rochdale whilst breaking down barriers.
  • Lancashire Wildlife Trust are testing what kind of activities best attract those most in need in Bury, as well as providing volunteering opportunities for the community.
  • Salford CVS are identifying and filling gaps in therapy and treatment in natural surroundings, such as creating growing spaces, drop-in sessions and conservation training.

In addition, City of Trees are co-ordinating a Greater Manchester-wide offer of training for workers involved in offering nature based activities to improve mental health, a digital and physical resource exchange and a network or space for a green social movement of groups and volunteers to both inform the project and learn from it. Groundwork Greater Manchester is excited to be part of this collaboration, bringing years of experience of delivering nature based activities in disadvantaged communities and is looking forward to strengthening its part in addressing the mental health impacts of the pandemic alongside such a wide range of inspiring partners.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 runs from 10th-16th May. If you would like to, share, donate or learn more follow the hashtag #MHAW21

Of course you do not need to be part of this project or referred by a GP in order to benefit from the nature based activities offered by Groundwork, or perhaps you are interested in setting up your own activities? Please do get in touch if anything in this blog has sparked your interest.

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If you would like to discuss this project with us please contact

By Michaela Howell, Head of Communities at Groundwork Greater Manchester