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Social Prescribing – Check your cupboards first – Author – Iggy Patel

Recently I have seen quite a few proposals and jobs for such roles in our area which is also great to witness. I hope by writing this piece it helps people working and promoting these ideas, which I have long held important, with a few tips gathered, from my experience with working with communities on the front end.

This is all part of the NHS universal personalised plan.

One of the biggest difficulties seems to be recruitment and finding appropriate staff to run and undertake these roles. It may surprise many people but these roles have already been practiced in these communities for a while. Look closer check in your own cupboards and backyards and you will find local people full of community spirit who have never been recognised or truly valued for the work they do. I live in a medium size village, I can name at least five people who have, and are social prescribing and connecting communities. Don’t forget to Include NHS local Peer Leaders, who are another strain all part of the same Personalisation Process.

These people need to be brought in to the fold. They already have the local contacts and are well known in the neighbourhoods. They too are the natural helpers and givers amongst society. Perhaps they could be better utilised, the first step being that they are paid and adequately supported, after all, they already know what is needed and where to get it.

One of the biggest challenges I see with this type of work and it being managed by large organisations or even small, is eventually processes and policies will always get in the way. People just want to get on with it, quickly quietly and efficiently without all the constraints of forms, management, reports, rules etc. My experience with disability groups has shown that if you give them a little money to spend as they want, with simple authorisation and receipt process, this can help. Paid staff who will visit and support these groups as needed should handle any management and reporting.

Having looked at this area closely and having given it some thought, isn’t this what our communities once flourished with? People championing their own neighbourhoods! It didn’t need managing, every area seemed to have its own leads and helpers, in fact, whole communities swung and clung together to help one another. As shown recently by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, people in need will naturally just support each other.

What changed and why did we lose this? I would posit that the economic success of the last forty years meant more people moved. The message was if you want it, go and get it, and so people did. We then lost that community spirit and things are changing again. It seems nature is showing us how to slow down, so it makes sense that now would be the time to start building these communities again.

Communities need to rise again, we need to go back to supporting each other, in our local areas. Resources need to put back in to the small groups and activities which our communities thrive on. With it, we will bring a sense of pride and belonging and could help local economies too. This too is important and the legislation is there via the Social Value Act is to support such ventures when commissioning services.

This article was first produced on Iggy’s blog.