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Key takeaways:

  • Some Link Workers act as natural advocates for the arts in supporting health and wellbeing, and this often comes from personal experience, for those who aren’t, you can point them in the direction of this resource which is a guide on the health benefits of arts, cultural and community engagement.
  • Clients could be interested in engaging with the arts but not be ready to act on these interests in the time they spend working with their Link Worker
  • Consider potential barriers to participation in the arts: accessibility, cost, confidence
  • Be prepared for a large spectrum of people with different expectations and needs, being referred by Link Workers
  • Digital technologies to keep track of a clients’ journey and onward referrals into the VCSE are developing

Alison has been working as a MyCommunity Link Worker, employed by Age UK Lambeth since December 2019.

Previously a Community involvement and Advocacy Coordinator at CoolTan Arts in Southwark, Alison has a background in partnership building and wellbeing workshop delivery through creative arts. With all this experience she brings to the Link Worker role, receiving referrals across six GP surgeries, she notes ‘I suppose much of my role is about managing people’s expectations of other services and trying to encourage people into fields like the creative arts… Maybe they have never tapped into their creativity before’.

In this way she acknowledges, like the other Link Workers we interviewed, that much of what gets brought to the table by clients cannot be solved, which can result in worsening of pre-existing mental health difficulties. She notes that physical activities do remain at the top of the list for supporting people for their mental health, but feels confident to help her clients to explore the rest of the ‘5 Ways To Wellbeing’ including through creative activities.

As the social prescribing contract in Lambeth is commissioned by CCGs to Age UK Lambeth, Alison finds that the Age UK network is great for keeping its ear to the ground and knowing what community services are available. For successful referrals into services, she says to consider that someone may not be ready, in terms of the behaviour change psychology, or that clients may have requirements that warrant extra support before they can access a new group, whether that be transport or having an escort/buddy to attend the group with. For the reasons outlined above, it’s important to give enough time for the recruitment stage of your project/ programme to maximise engagement with stakeholders.

Alison on quality assurance of VCSE offerings:

It is still fragmented and I try to go to places personally to build relationships with organisations and understand how they function, so I can refer confidently’. On the other hand, some of her clients may require less intensive support to access services, and simply require light signposting. In those cases, she cites that people can make their own choices and decide for themselves if a group is appropriate for them and can cater for their needs. This is important to understand, as it demonstrates that there could potentially be a spectrum of people coming to your service as referred or signposted  by social prescribers, with different expectations and needs.

We also spoke to Alison about the digital technologies supporting social prescribing, in particular Elemental.  As a platform, Elemental is used to make, manage, track and measure social prescribing referrals. From our conversation, it is clear that the platform is not being used to its full potential currently, and it will take time before the system is adopted more widely and made more accessible to the VCSE. The idea is that the system could track people and receive feedback from the external referrals made by Link Workers, as fed in by VCSE colleagues and this information relayed  back to GPs. At the moment, the extent of feedback received from referrals she makes, relies on her personal relationships with the organisation and their capacity to provide feedback.

‘Things are still evolving, and to get as far as we are now with new technology supporting social prescribing is pretty big.’

One message from a tree that partners and participants used to give feedback, during a celebration of the Thriving Communities funded project The Health Tree in Bethnal Green.
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