City Lit Blog

International Social Prescribing Day 2020

Story added 12th Mar 2020


Whilst the world is coping with Coronavirus, understandably other health prevention discussions are moved to lesser priorities. However, on today’s International Social Prescribing Day (12th March) Phil Chamberlain, Executive Director External Engagement at City Lit explains why it remains important that we highlight the benefits and the impact it can have...

Social Prescribing’ is a system where healthcare professionals are able to refer patients to local, non-clinical services to meet their wellbeing needs. What you can take part in will depend on what’s available locally, and how local services work together.  Across London, a GP or nurse might refer you to a ‘link worker’ – someone who meets with you to find out what you need, what you’d like to do, and then puts you in touch with a local organisation or group that can provide it. In other areas, the healthcare professional might put you directly in contact with a local group or organisation.

Social prescribing can lead to important changes in people’s lives but that is just the start of it. The impact goes well beyond the individual, benefitting society at all levels – individuals, families and communities to VCSE organisations, healthcare services, local authorities, and ultimately London as a whole.

Much has been lauded about the potential impact of social prescribing – on people’s wellbeing, but also reducing some burden on the NHS.  City Lit believe adult education should be seen as an essential to the success of this policy agenda – if suitable advice, funding and infrastructure is in place

As one of London’s leading adult education colleges, we believe the onus is on us to play a leading role in promoting positive mental wellbeing, and also in helping people make that first step in having the confidence to talk openly about their personal challenges. Adult education is vital to any society and this has been well documented – for economic and social reasons, but also individually for people’s mental and physical health and wellbeing. Life is more stressful and can be isolated and adult education has the wonderful ability to give people opportunities to find their passion and interests and to relieve stress, improve employability, develop new skills, boost self-esteem, and of course, come together with people from different walks of life.

Whilst there is no 'one size fits all' solution to curbing the issues of poor mental or physical health, we are confident that adult education is one route to help tackle the problem head on.

One of the great joys of working at City Lit is the welcoming atmosphere that is immediately apparent as you walk through our doors each day – our café area is a hive of activity with students of all ages laughing, debating or simply catching up. We believe lifelong learning is key to helping people stay mentally stimulated throughout both their working life and well into retirement – broadening horizons, developing new skills, improving employability and helping people to make new contacts and connections that may have seemed beyond reach prior to setting out on a course.

We've witnessed countless examples of how adult learning transforms mental health and wellbeing – From Angela, a full-time carer for her mum, who studies sculpture and acting courses here and for whom City Lit is a lifesaver and a powerful transformation place, to Yunus, a student in his 80s who has been studying here since the early 1960s due to the intellectual stimulation and sense of community he believes adult education provides him.

Our annual Mental Wealth Festival highlights the way mental health issues impact on so many aspects of our daily life, and how the arts, politics, culture, faith and the media can support our ‘mental wealth’. Last year, we focused on relationships, family and the importance of community networks but we also discussed topics such as loneliness and isolation and the impact this can have on our mental health and wellbeing and the strategies and tools to support this.

London has the opportunity to lead the way on social prescribing. The current momentum, nationally, locally, and across sectors provides an opportunity to make real progress. To deliver social prescribing and make sure that it is accessible to London’s most vulnerable residents requires partners across London’s health, care and public health system – including the VCSE – to work together.  As strides have already been taken to ensure there is a network of link workers – or ‘social prescribers’ – across London, we recognise there are challenges to alerting GPs to the full range of services available.

The Mayor of London’s new powers (August 2019) over the adult education budget provides a ground-breaking opportunity to tailor adult education and skills provision in the capital to ensure Londoners can develop the skills they need to succeed.  As things are moving forward, the Mayor is keen to understand ways in which the Adult Education Budget, and in particular Adult and Community Learning which supports social integration into some of London’s most disadvantaged communities, could be used to support social prescribing in the city.  Making new funding available to enable adult education provision across the capital, to be a clear part of social prescribing – would be an obvious start to success.

Raising the profile of adult education – specifically amongst health commissioners and the new social prescribing network - would help greatly and we are very keen to explore ways of achieving this. Therefore, our specific recommendations would be to: 

-          Encourage health commissioners to recognise the adult education sector as a key strategic partner.

-          See the Government/Department of Health & Social Care create incentives and opportunities for health and education professionals to collaborate.

-          Create clearer links with the adult education network in programmes that promote social prescribing and are increasingly supported within the NHS plan.

-          Ensure dedicated funding is made available to support social prescribing options.

Phil Chamberlain, Executive Director External Engagement at City Lit