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Insights into how social prescribing is perceived by those running community gardening schemes have been revealed by researchers.

The research was conducted with community gardens and food growing networks in London by Sustain on behalf of the Greater London Authority. Seventy garden leaders took part in a questionnaire and 18 were interviewed.

Many of those surveyed were aware and interested in the social prescribing agenda and for some it is already part of existing services.

But the research showed there is unmet potential for an increase in referrals to the community gardening sector due to:

  • Low level contact between gardens and local social prescribing service due to `relative newness’ and lack of clarity about how to make contact
  • Programme leaders also are cautious about whether they have capacity to adequately support those referred.
  • Information about gardens and what they offer also varies and can make it difficult for social prescribing services.

Money is also highlighted as a concern among those questioned.

There is a clear opportunity for social prescribing services to refer more patients to community gardens, particularly where the patient has minimal support needs,

Sustain report

`Very few gardens were being funded to receive health referrals, which for many was perceived as a challenge to being referral-ready and also to make contact with social prescribing services,’ says the report.

`For those ready to receive social prescribing referrals, the actual number of successful referrals being made is low. This is due to the early stages of social prescribing services and the challenges they face in terms of case load and supporting people with complex needs.’

Researchers say there is capacity to support people with more complex needs who need structured intervention `but referrals need resources, either through funding identified by the garden, the NHS or by both’.

The report adds: `There is a clear opportunity for social prescribing services to refer more patients to community gardens, particularly where the patient has minimal support needs, or if they are receiving support elsewhere but would benefit from social, nature-based activity.’

Among Sustain’s recommendations are

  • Clearer vision of who social prescribing is targeting and information on social prescribing contacts in each London borough
  • Training, events and tours to engage social prescribing link workers in what community gardens can offer people.
  • Training to ensure community gardens are ready for referrals.

Read the full report here.