Exciting times ahead for social prescribing in Edinburgh

Social prescribing is everywhere – from government strategies and health service plans to Third Sector Organisations’ websites. Referring individuals to a range of local, non-clinical activities or services seems like a sensible way to reduce loneliness and/or social isolation. However, many people offered such advice often need a little bit of persuasion to attend or participate in new groups. Even when the person has expressed an interest in doing so, there can be tangible barriers to overcome first, for example, transport, accessibility issues and financial implications.

Several health and social care partnerships across Scotland have introduced Community Link Workers (CLWs) to provide people with support and encouragement to take those first steps towards engaging in local activities. To maximise the effectiveness of this role, CLWs are employed by Third Sector Organisations but are based in local GP practices working as part of the team. The CLWs ensure that practice teams are aware of what is available in the immediate neighbourhood so that the clinicians and reception staff can signpost people to community organisations and events. Although still in its infancy, there is growing academic evidence that highlights the benefits of social prescribing and as it becomes more established other organisations and services have started to explore this as an additional way to help people.

Although slightly removed from the more usual health setting, social prescribing is referred to throughout Scottish Government’s Culture Strategy. That said, the principle is the same – engagement in cultural activities results in reduced social isolation and improved health outcomes. It doesn’t matter whether this is participating in a drama workshop, attending an art class or learning a musical instrument. Every one of these, and more, are part of Scotland’s rich culture.

For some people activities that have a cultural basis can be daunting – stepping into new venues, attending exhibitions, exploring different and varied forms of art/music and perhaps feeling that some of these events are “out of bounds”. Happily, the CLWs have case studies that demonstrate that these activities can be enjoyed by everyone and in conjunction with Voluntary Health Scotland (VHScotland.org.uk), Edinburgh’s CLW Network has been working to encourage greater involvement.

VHS hosted two online events bringing together arts practitioners, such as Youth Theatre Arts Scotland, Museums Galleries Scotland, Art in Healthcare and some of the city’s link workers. There was a series of presentations and discussions over the course of both sessions allowing participants the opportunity to begin to understand one others’ roles and perspectives and to find ways to work together to improve access to a wide range of activities for people living in Edinburgh.

Shortly after these sessions a workshop was held for several of the city’s CLWs at The Collective, a contemporary art centre based at the top of Calton Hill. The aim was to introduce the CLWs to this resource and for the link workers to add it to their “toolbox” of activities. This took place during the pandemic and was therefore a virtual event but there are now ambitions to run another piece of collaborative work and some training for the CLWs, this time in person.

This led us to consider that there might be value in setting up direct conversations between art practitioners and link workers. We created a Teams meeting and invited participants from the two VHS events to come along. On the day we had representation from organisations such as Tinderbox, Art in Healthcare, The Collective, City of Edinburgh Council and Edinburgh International Film Festival. There was much discussion around the challenges of connecting with people who face challenges such as finance and housing, with arts and culture. The group were able to discuss how CLWs, their employing organisations, local practices and the arts and culture groups could work together to bring arts and culture to the people we work with in ways that suits them. It was agreed that contact details could be shared so that smaller, more specific discussions could take place.

We are delighted to report that these “pairings” have been extremely helpful. CLWs have highlighted specific barriers and offered some practical solutions to the individual organisations and the CLWs are able to describe and explain what local arts initiatives (in their very broadest sense) can offer and, where appropriate, encourage individuals to get involved.

The small groupings are due to come back together again during June 2022 to share learning and experiences. This will provide us with an opportunity to jointly agree next steps and future ventures. Exciting times lie ahead!

Written by Anne Crandles, CLW

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