A group of nine smiling people standing in a tunnel made of bamboo growing over arched supports in the Petrus Community Garden.
Staff, volunteers and service users at the Petrus community allotment

Greater Manchester has been testing how nature-based activities can support communities facing the biggest health inequalities as one of seven national green social prescribing areas.

Nature for Health considered how we can support people with mental ill health, by offering connection to the natural environment through referral to nature-based activities, groups and organisations. It aims to develop the infrastructure needed to support more nature-based groups, encourage more diverse activities and support professionals to refer, and people to use, our natural spaces.

Working through a network of organisations, Nature for Health has taken more 1,100 referrals, delivered green health activities to over 940 people and brought together over 80 green providers. People have seen clear benefits around happiness, life satisfaction and a reduction in anxiety.

More than 400 people from the region’s green providers, social prescribing teams and link workers, voluntary organisations and community initiatives came together with health, social care and public health to learn how we can support more people through nature-based activities.

Interim findings from the national University of Sheffield research show that Greater Manchester is reaching more diverse and socioeconomically deprived communities, with more than 8 in 10 referrals being for mental health challenges or stresses.

To celebrate the work that’s taken place over the past two years, and the impact it has had, partners and participants came together at an event at RHS Bridgewater in Salford.

And representatives from NHS England, Natural England, National Academy for Social Prescribing, Defra, and Department of Health and Social Care visited one of the programme’s ‘test and learn sites’ at Petrus’ community allotment in Rochdale to see Nature for Health in action.

Talking about the visit, Millie who attends the walking and gardening group through Petrus’ community outreach programme, which supports people who are more likely to experience health inequalities to benefit from nature, said:

“It was nice and comforting to have the opportunity to give our opinion about why Nature for Health is so important and for them to hear our views. It’s good that we got to talk to them and share our opinions.”

Since joining the group Millie has noticed an improvement in her own health and wellbeing and she also supports other members of the group to engage with the service.

Green social prescribing refers to people being connected to nature-based activity; gardening sessions, community allotments, food growing schemes, conservation, walking groups and more.

At the national visit, Greater Manchester showed how it was unique in its approach with regional funding going to voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations. Petrus in Rochdale along with Lancashire Wildlife Trust in Bury​, Salford CVS in Salford​, and Sow the City in Manchester have been providing the activities, improving access to people and referrers, and building a local green health network. City of Trees has been working regionally to create a green health stakeholder group, ​resource exchange hub, workshops and training.​

Although the two-year national funding has come to an end, partners are still committed to growing Nature for Health across the region, and are continuing to see a growing trend in referrals to nature-based activities. Greater Manchester’s two Mental Health Trusts, Pennine Care and GMMH, are funding the continuation of their own green social prescribing programmes through the network of providers.

Green social prescribing is becoming embedded in local strategies and plans, and at a national level the work has informed the Environmental Improvement Plan, NHS England Statutory Guidance to Integrated Care Systems: Working in Partnership with People and Communities and a case study from Greater Manchester is featured in the Levelling Up White Paper. The importance of nature-based interventions to improve mental health was highlighted as part of the evidence review in 2022 for the mental health and wellbeing strategy.

Jon Grace, Nature for Health manager at NHS GM said:

“The potential is huge to improve mental health, reduce health inequalities, reduce demand on the health and social care system, and to make nature-based social activities more accessible to everyone in the city-region, so we are determined to develop more and more  opportunities for people, and continue to overcome challenges together. Regional partners will continue to help coordinate opportunities for learning, training, funding, and the overall growth of nature-based social prescribing across the region. We will continue to work together to bring benefits to people, communities, green providers, health and care, nature and the environment.”

For more information visit the GM Nature for Health website.

Find our more about the seven national green social prescribing areas.

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