Social prescribing involves linking individuals to community organisations via referrals from primary healthcare providers (your GP, for example). Community organisations can provide non-medical sources of support within the local communities which can help to address psychological, social, emotional, and mental health needs through provision of social activities. One type of social prescription involves exposure to natural environments to improve health and wellbeing, this is known as green social prescription, or nature-based social prescription.
The aims of social prescribing include allowing people to have control over their care and to put the person at the centre of the treatment, it’s providing people with the information to do the activities that they want to do. For individuals with a disability, their environment can be a barrier to engagement in these activities, in this case the physical environment of the countryside can be inaccessible to wheelchair users. Walking in the countryside is a meaningful leisure activity for many people, and if an individual’s mobility is decreasing, then walking in the countryside may no longer be possible.
Research has shown that people living with disabilities are underrepresented in the countryside and more attention is required to reduce physical barriers to accessing the environment. Access the Dales exists to break down the barriers that people face when accessing the countryside, with our slogan being “making the inaccessible accessible!”. Access the Dales currently has four hubs in which individuals with mobility issues can hire all terrain wheelchairs to explore the tried and tested routes with the scooter. Access the Dales also provides information about the accessible facilities in the area, including toilets and places to eat and drink. The hubs at Access the Dales can be used independently, by using the online system to book one of the all-terrain scooters.
Accessing the countryside can provide a wealth of benefits to health and wellbeing and improve quality of life. Research has found that nature-based interventions improve physiological health outcomes by reducing heart rate, decreasing cortisol levels (the stress hormone), reducing blood pressure and cholesterol, which in turn reduce the incidence of longer-term health issues. Accessing the natural environment has also shown to improve cognitive abilities, such as reducing stress, improving attention and working memory, and promoting cognitive development in children.
Furthermore, evidence also shows that psychological wellbeing can be improved with accessing the natural environment, this includes reducing anxiety, depression, and panic, as well as improving self-esteem, self-worth, and self-confidence. People have also reported that accessing the natural environment improves psychological wellbeing by offering a distraction from their problems, this can be due to being distracted by natural stimuli and the ability to engage all five senses whilst outdoors. Accessing the countryside alongside others can also help to reduce feelings of social isolation through development of mutually supportive relationships and feelings of meaning, belonging and community. People living with disabilities can use the countryside as a place of sanctuary, an extension of therapy and rehabilitation, and to help them to come to terms with their disability.
We have created a downloadable booklet (linked below) detailing what Access the Dales is, who can use it, as well as a step-by-step guide about how to access the website and the booking system. Anyone can download this booklet to get more information about who we are and what we do. Local healthcare services (including social prescribing link workers), who have contact with individuals who could benefit from using the wheelchair hubs, can download the booklet to pass on to individuals. The booklet also includes handy tips about our hubs and includes links to other services and information people can use when accessing the environment. If you would like printed copies of this booklet, please contact email@example.com.
This blog was written and produced by
MSc Occupational Therapy Student
Sheffield Hallam University
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