Published date: 30 July 2021

Transforming the NHS estate for social prescribing – learnings from the past 12 months

Rhea Horlock, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility for NHS Property Services, talks about how we have transformed previously unused spaces into social prescribing sites to support local communities.

The original article was published in Thriving Communities, National Academy for Social Prescribing's Ideas Hub.

At the start of FY 2020 and after a few successful pilot sites in Northumberland and Suffolk, I was very proud to help launch NHS Property Services’ nationwide programme to transform 21 unused indoor and outdoor spaces in our portfolio into social prescribing sites to support community wellbeing across England.

The past 12 months have been extremely challenging for people across the country. COVID19 has meant many people are experiencing extreme isolation and loneliness, and the lasting impacts on mental health will be significant. As lockdown restrictions lift, it’s going to be more important than ever to deliver on the NHS’ social prescribing goal and I am very proud to be a part of an organisation that has committed to supporting community wellbeing.

Our social prescribing sites

The sites range in size and use, providing a number of services including mental health services, baby banks and wraparound services, sensory rooms and gardens, plus community allotments and kitchen space for local charities. Here are some examples:

Refurbishments were made to support the development of an onsite kitchen within Axminster Community Hospital for use by local charity, Project FOOD who run cooking classes, meals on wheels and re-enablement services

  • Full redevelopment of a health centre floor to create six counselling rooms for mental health charity, The Listening Place within Hunter Street Medical Centre in North London
  • Conversion of space in the South East to create a community café and charity shop, which will provide mental health services, domestic abuse support, school food larder and financial support
  • Outside space at Offerton Learning Disability Resource Centre has been transformed into a multi-use garden, including growing beds, sensory garden, outdoor gym and outdoor meeting space

To deliver these sites, our regional asset and facilities management teams, Corporate Social Responsibility and Finance teams worked alongside NHS partners, construction companies and local organisations to redesign vacant space, improving the look, feel and capabilities which will enable excellent patient care.

Our research with The King’s Fund

As well as our practical efforts, in November 2020, NHSPS and The King’s Fund published the Social Prescribing and NHS Facilities report which revealed how the NHS can carry out small changes to make better use of its estate to better support the health and wellbeing of local communities. You can find a summary of the report, here.

Using our learnings to help others

Through practice and research, we’ve learned a lot over the past 12 months and I want to share our learnings with others so we can work together to drive social prescribing forward.

We’ve put together this infographic which will hopefully provide some inspiration to healthcare estates owners looking to use their buildings to improve community wellbeing – small changes can have a great impact.

We’ve also created this learnings guide to help others who are at the start of this journey. You can use this like a checklist of practical issues to consider as you transform a space.

It’s been a challenging year for so many reasons but I’m very much looking forward to what we can achieve in 2021/22. I’m very open to conversations about how we can transform the NHS estate for social prescribing so please do get in touch if you would like to have a chat.