Insights November 11, 2022

What is Social Prescribing?

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Social prescribing is a relatively new approach to healthcare in the UK which embraces a more holistic approach. It involves empowering health professionals to refer their patients for a range of non-clinical services in their local area.

Social prescribing recognises that people’s health will be determined by a whole host of different factors, including social, environmental and economic circumstances. It also recognises that whilst healthcare professionals are extremely important in providing care, there will also be ongoing benefits if individuals are able to take control of their own health by, for example, taking part in organised exercise, cookery classes or community gardening projects.

The Bromley By Bow Centre in East London has a long history of pioneering Social prescribing, which can also be referred to as a community-centred approach to healthcare.

Design for Social Prescribing

These projects provide an inclusive and welcoming environment where Link Workers, community groups and the voluntary sector can come together to support the local population, improve health and wellbeing, and provide opportunities for personal growth and development.

In 2020 we began a journey with social prescribing, helping to create three projects across the UK which would bring underutilised space in Health Centres back into use for the provision of social prescribing.

Our Social Prescribing projects are designed in close collaboration with the stakeholders, recognising that agency and involvement, as well as an in depth understanding of operations, ensures successful outcomes.

Courtesy NHS / Groundwork

Ashfield Health Centre –

The overall vision was to create a new social prescribing hub in a disused former canteen and kitchen space which was once a vibrant communal meeting space. From conversations with staff and users, we realised the importance of having a mixture of open and enclosed spaces to be respectful of patients’ privacy whilst also ensuring that the centre could be reinstated as a community hub. The main space is a flexible, fully adaptable space, allowing for alternative future uses. The space should be able to host both large groups as well as small private one to one meetings and counselling sessions, so accessibility and adaptability were key parts of the design proposal.

What is Social Prescribing?

Wellington Way Health Centre –

Wellington Way health centre in East London is surrounded by a fenced narrow outdoor space that is rarely used. Our brief was to turn this border space into a garden that would be used as a social space and informal waiting area.

We suggested to use the external space as part of the health centre; a semi-private garden for social prescribing classes such as yoga, meditation and gardening, as well as a space for staff and patients to relax and enjoy the outdoors.

Built-in planter seating provides informal outdoor waiting and breakout area for staff. Large planters break up the garden and create natural screens of plants that add pockets of privacy. A local community gardening organisation arranged a three day gardening workshop to educate, engage and involve the staff, patients and the wider community.

What is Social Prescribing?
Wellington Way

Feedback from link worker attending gardening workshop:

“ I am so happy to finally say that we have a beautiful garden now. Thank you to everyone who has been involved in this project. With your support our patients and staff can now enjoy the space created. I managed to get staff involved with the gardening, and I must say our staff loved this opportunity given to them to plant something in the garden. ”

Social Prescribing Link Worker, London E3

Victoria Central Liverpool –

Collective Works was appointed to turn empty spaces in the existing Victoria Central Health Centre in the Wirral into a welcoming hub for a variety of stakeholders and charities involved with Social Prescribing.

The staff and managers from a variety of community groups and charities gave detailed input on how the spaces would need to operate, and the design was developed to work with existing materials and finishes to remain cost effective and sustainable, but also create unique and welcoming spaces for staff and users.

We used colour, plants and landscape photography to create warm, welcoming and non clinical spaces. A flexible coworking space will support the variety of staff and encourage collaboration, and the cafe is designed to be a welcoming community hub.

Over the course of these three projects we developed some simple approaches to Social Prescribing, which we’ll be summarising in forthcoming posts.

What is Social Prescribing?

If you’d like to hear more about our approach to designing for Social Prescribing, please drop us a line on the contact form here:


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