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Educating sport and physical activity sector on social prescribing will unlock numerous mutual benefits

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Educating sport and physical activity sector on social prescribing will unlock numerous mutual benefits

On International Social Prescribing Day, newly appointed Regional Physical Activity Advisor (London), Rob McLean, looks at the potential social prescribing offers the physical activity and sport sector and how his new role looks to maximise that potential.

There appears to be an ever-growing recognition of the potential of social prescribing to provide the support that many of us need in our lives at this most challenging of times.

With the Global Social Prescribing Alliance also being launched last month, it’s a great time for me to come in to post as Regional Physical Activity Adviser in a new role funded by Sport England in partnership with the National Academy for Social Prescribing.

It will be exciting to explore the synergies and opportunities for physical activity and sport and match this with the community reach that social prescribing provides.

On Social Prescribing Day, it’s also one year since the National Academy for Social Prescribing launched the 'Thriving Communities Programme'.

The Thriving Communities Fund is part of the wider, cross sectoral, ‘Thriving Communities’ programme supporting communities impacted by covid-19, alongside social prescribing link workers.

Social prescribing has been around for many years and is commonly believed to have developed organically as communities sought to help individuals find solutions to their needs.

More formal, voluntary sector-led schemes developed in recognition of the amount of time GPs were increasingly spending with patients around wider social needs rather than acute medical issues.

Social prescribing allowed GPs to confidently refer patients on to ‘link workers’ or ‘community connectors’ who could provide support around non-medical issues such as housing, debt, stress and loneliness etc.

In 2019, the benefits of social prescribing had become so well recognised that it was included as an integral part of the NHS Long Term Plan and ‘comprehensive model of personalised care’ - with the aim of "enabling people to have the choice and control necessary for their lives and to support them to have their best life".

A growing network of NHS link workers, alongside counterparts in the wider voluntary and community sector, provides a unique systematic reach into communities and often to those with the most challenging and complex lives.

This is an opportunity for those in physical activity and sport to better understand and respond to the needs of those in society that they may struggle to engage with.

And while social prescribing is an all-age offer, we are recently seeing the growth of specialist link workers to support the needs of communities with particular health and wellbeing needs.

Children and young people are a case in point and StreetGames have been particularly pro-active in this space with their Youth Social Prescribing work. For a general introduction to social prescribing, however, the Healthy London Partnership have produced this excellent nine-minute overview.

As I take up my new role, London Sport continues to explore and unlock the potential of social prescribing for physical activity and sport.

Within our LDN Moving strategy targeting less active Londoners, there is a focus on reducing health inequalities with an aim to "bring organisations together to create, develop, test, scale and champion innovative ways of supporting active lives".

We have already completed a research project with the University of Kent which identified a lack of confidence amongst link workers in discussing physical activity within consultations.

We’ve since produced and are currently offering evidence based training on physical activity for London-based link workers.

This has led to a follow-up ‘Physical Activity Referrals’ project, funded by the Greater London Authority (GLA) and Sport England which involves working with a number of referral schemes and technology providers across London.

The project aims to identify ways make it easier for link workers to find up to-date information on local, relevant activity opportunities, as part of a more effective overall referral process for service users.

I look forward to working with partners, both within social prescribing and the wider community sport and physical activity sector, to unlock the mutual benefits that will surely come from closer collaboration.




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London Sport aims to ensure Londoners live happier, healthier lives through sport and physical activity

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London Sport aims to ensure more Londoners live happier, healthier lives through sport and physical activity. Supported by the Mayor of London and Sport England, our target is to get Londoners more physically active.

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