Quarter of a million pound funding boost to improve health by connecting with nature

HEY Smile Foundation is delighted to announce it has been awarded nearly a quarter of a million pounds by The National Lottery to help people across our region to connect with nature and improve their health.

Smile will receive £247,500 over three years from the Community Fund for Growing Green and Blue Health across Humber and North Yorkshire.

Since April 2021, Smile has been the Lead Provider of the Humber and North Yorkshire Green Social Prescribing ‘test and learn’ pilot, exploring how to connect people with the outdoors to support their health and wellbeing, with a focus on mental health.

Working across the Health and Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise sectors, Smile has been working with the Humber and North Yorkshire Health and Care Partnership to see how best to routinely connect patients with nature to improve health outcomes.

A local community garden project supported by the pilot has reported huge improvements in those attending their sessions. One participant has reduced their dependency on anxiety medication and puts this down to regularly attending gardening activities: “I didn’t think I would ever come off my medication and I am proud that I have done it. I like being outside more than I like being inside. It is really good for me. I get satisfaction, but it is hard work! I feel like a different person, I have a normal day-to-day life now.”  

Over the pilot project, Smile has found that community organisations running schemes in the countryside (green) or by water (blue) need further support, training and upskilling in order to take more referrals from health services, including GPs and Social Prescribing services.

Growing Green and Blue Health will help to provide that support, consulting with community-based organisations running activities about their specific needs and working collaboratively with voluntary sector development organisations to connect them with existing support.

In addition, bespoke training, upskilling and support specifically for those organisations running outdoor activities for health and wellbeing will be developed. This in turn will help to develop chances for people looking to access community-based green and blue activities to support their own health and wellbeing needs. Growing Green and Blue Health is also keen to explore how ‘green networks’ can be developed to build the voice of the community sector in healthcare decisions.

Programme Manager for Green Social Prescribing at Smile, Anthony Hurd, said: “Connecting with nature has huge benefits for our health and wellbeing and local community groups play an essential role in making these connections happen, be it through walk and talk groups, community gardens or improving wildlife habitat. As pressure grows on our health system, and holistic person-centred care becomes more prevalent, we need to ensure those organisations delivering outdoor and in-nature activities are supported in their role in promoting the health and wellbeing of communities.

“As Lead Provider for a national Green Social Prescribing test and learn pilot, this funding will allow Smile to maintain the momentum we have generated around utilising the outdoors and nature in healthcare delivery, while building on our learning from the last 18 months. It will also allow us to work towards a more sustainable model for community-based green and blue health delivery. We are excited to get going with the project and further consult with communities.

“Smile aims to work with a wide range of groups and organisations across the region and there are many existing opportunities out there already that people can connect with. Through our pilot we have worked closely with organisations such as the Oasis Garden in Grimsby, Rooted in Hull, Mires Beck Nursery near North Cave, St Nicks in York and Raincliffe Wood Community Enterprise near Scarborough, all of whom offer exciting opportunities and activities to engage people with nature to support health and wellbeing.”

Evidence suggests that taking part in green and blue activities has significant health and wellbeing benefits for those involved. University of Exeter research suggests a 2-hour “dose” of nature each week significantly boosts health and wellbeing, while connecting with nature is associated with lower levels of poor mental health, in particular lower depression and anxiety levels.

This ambitious project will work across the six places of Humber and North Yorkshire: North East Lincolnshire; North Lincolnshire; Hull; East Riding of Yorkshire; Vale of York; and North Yorkshire. Smile will soon be recruiting for a Project Officer before reaching out to the VCSE sector running green and blue activities to help shape the project and its delivery.