Moving forward: Our aspirations for research and social prescribing
I am writing this on the eve of the 1st International Social Prescribing Network research conference. Since Michael Dixon and I, with colleagues, set up the Social Prescribing Network in November 2015, we have been able to bring so many different people together. Each time we do this, there is a buzz of excitement, potential and hope in the air. This is because we have the pleasure of collaborating with people who really care about a person as an individual. They care enough to work differently, often in challenging circumstances. Doing what is right for the person who is experiencing difficulties, that is their priority. I have explained the concept of social prescribing to many people and heard them say, "well it's common sense isn't it" and yes, it is. In-fact, if you strip it back to the essentials, then I see it as loving people better, in very compassionate and practical ways. And we all know that it is love that makes the world go round.
When we applied to the Wellcome Trust for funding to set up the Social Prescribing Network, it was research and evaluation that was at the forefront of my mind. I have researched whole person / holistic approaches to health for many years and I have come to understand that the only real limitations that there are for our wellbeing, are the ones we put in place and the ones that the 'system' imposes. If you can help a person to change their perspective on what they can achieve and walk with them in the direction of person-centred support, then modern day miracles occur – that is the power of social prescribing. You only need to listen to the inspiration speakers such as Debs Taylor and Arabella Tresilian, to understand quite how life saving or transformative this approach to supporting people is.
It is now that the detailed and careful work begins and we need to look to the research and evaluation data to guide us. There has been a lot reported about social prescribing, many stories told, perhaps assumptions and aspirations shared. Now we need to understand what really changes. As humans we remember the amazing and awful, but not the mediocre. We know when something great is happening, but the challenge is to capture this in scientifically valid and person-centred ways, that can inform service development and larger research projects, as well as funders and commissioners. It is my feeling that without carefully capturing the data, using appropriate and defendable methods, then we will struggle to take this movement all the way.
So, for two and half years we have banged the drum, started the social movement and our shouts are gradually being heard. There is a camp fire song in Scouting which has the line "and if you can't hear us, we'll shout a little louder!" So, it is with a mixture of satisfaction and humbleness that 14thJune sees us launch the research specific arm of the Social Prescribing Network. We hope this conference will be the start of many international social prescribing network research conferences, where we can continue to bring the leading researchers and evaluators together to share their knowledge and experience in this field. The last two years has taught me one thing – that the social prescribing network will keep shouting a little louder until we get sustainable funding for social prescribing provision and decent grant funded routes for the accompanying research!
We will provide as much feedback, write up and access to presentations on this website over the coming weeks as we can so do come back and check in. We would like to thank Dr Michelle Howarth and the University of Salford, Craig Lister and The Conservation Volunteers, the Mayor of London, and the University of Westminster for financially supporting the conference.
Photo courtesy of Mark Adrian via Unsplash
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