Published date: 16 May 2024

Healing beyond medicine: best practice collaboration between medical and community services

“The voluntary community sector has a big part to play in supporting people’s health and wellbeing and preventing them from getting to a crisis point” Jane Hartley, National academy for social prescribing.

How do local health and voluntary organisations collaborate to improve community wellbeing? 

Social prescribing serves as an intersecting point between healthcare providers and voluntary organisations. Healthcare professionals can refer patients to support and activity groups led by voluntary organisations to help them overcome physical, mental, or environmental challenges in non-medical ways.  

The Unity Centre, based at Whitton Health Clinic, is a great example of a vibrant community hub for social prescribing. Here, Ipswich locals can access services and activities aimed to combat social isolation and improve community wellbeing.  

  • Combat2Coffee is a walk-in community café at the Unity Centre that provides rehabilitation, training, and mental health support to armed forces veterans struggling to cope with life outside the service. 
  • Communities Together supports people living with dementia and their family/carers through a weekly café providing refreshments, information, and a safe space. They also host a monthly “community cuppa” and bimonthly Otago/Boccia sessions at the Unity Centre to promote social interaction and physical wellbeing. 
  • Brave Futures utilises the Unity Centre to host biweekly one-to-one consultations offering therapeutic support to children and young people who have been victims of sexual abuse.  

If you’re a clinician looking to provide holistic care extending beyond traditional medicine, or if you’re an estates manager with vacant space in your buildings, think about collaborating with voluntary organisations to use your vacant spaces for hosting community services. If you’re a voluntary organisation, get in touch with your local GP practices and health centres to spark a conversation.  

The services offered at the Unity Centre were chosen to tackle root causes of problems faced by Ipswich locals and increase focus on improving their overall wellbeing rather than just treating the symptoms. Read case study to find out how we repurposed vacant space at the Whitton Clinic to launch this vibrant community hub in September 2021.  

How can you maximise the use of space?  

“The Unity Centre has a café, two rooms and two halls. These spaces are shared to hold various services,” Ellie Cracknell, Community Support Officer at the Unity Centre. Sharing the space between organisations not only spreads costs but also helps gain funding and maximise the use of a space to help more people in the community. Read our blog for more on optimising big and small spaces for social prescribing.  

If you’re partnering with multiple voluntary organisations to host services at your hub, we advise: 

  • Maintaining a timetable with designated time slots for different services running from the shared space at different times.  
  • Fostering a good working relationship with the voluntary organisations to discuss upcoming events. Adjust schedules where possible to ensure smooth running and collaboration in the use of shared spaces.  
  • Keeping voluntary organisations updated with the ongoings of other services offered at the hub to encourage referrals amongst each other.  

How can you make sure the right services for local’s needs are being provided? 


“We work with schools, counsellors, organisations delivering services around the area and even residents to find out exactly what they need,” Ellie Cracknell. We recommend undertaking a community needs assessment to make sure the community services hosted at your hub fit into the needs of locals in the area. Alongside input from community engagement, using population health management data will give you a quantitative insight on health inequalities, isolation, and other issues in your area.  


“We’re still tailoring the services according to community needs,” Ellie Cracknell. We worked with the Unity Centre to build toilets linked to the community café so people accessing the hub on a weekend don’t have to walk through the closed health clinic. We are also working on redecorating the community café and corridor to use geometric, pastel, dementia friendly colours. 

We recommend adapting the hub and its services to feel less clinical and more hostile. By adapting the hub based on community needs, you can provide the best support for locals in your area.  


You can make sure the local needs are being met by monitoring the reach, effectiveness and outcomes of the community wellbeing services hosted at your hub. Through regular feedback, adaptation, and evaluation, you can maintain a vibrant community hub that improves health outcomes for the community.  

Read our report with The Health Creation Alliance for valuable insight on what ten different communities – often those with poorer health outcomes - need from wellbeing spaces.  

How are services held at the hub promoted to the local community? 

The services available at your hub can be promoted to the local community in a variety of ways.  

At the Unity Centre, these include: 

  • Voluntary organisations using their own social media and website to share information about their services, upcoming events, and success stories.  
  • Leaflets from different organisations prominently displayed in a leaflet holder keeping visitors up to date on the offerings of the hub.  
  • On-site signage outside the Whitton Health clinic to make it prominent for locals that there is a hub at the facility hosting community wellbeing services.  
  • GPs and voluntary organisations recommending services available at the hub along with positive word of mouth within the community.  

Download your social prescribing toolkit for guidance on creating, managing, and promoting a social prescribing hub, including letter templates to ask for donations and social media guidance.  

Key takeaways and tips: 

  • Collaborating with voluntary organisations can improve community wellbeing through non-medical interventions.  
  • Use timetables to manage multiple organisations sharing space to provide wellbeing services at your hub.  
  • Engage with the community to understand local needs, adapt, and monitor services accordingly.  
  • Services at the hub can be promoted to the local community in a variety of ways including social media, leaflets, and word of mouth. 

Download your social prescribing toolkit

  • An eight-step guide on how to set up a site.
  • A guide to help you write impactful funding applications.
  • An infographic to help you identify space opportunities.
  • Two case study templates to help you to promote your services.  
  • Top tips for how to use social media to promote your services
  • Key contacts and website for more information on creating and managing community wellbeing sites. 
Download your social prescribing toolkit