Surrey has secured £500,000 to help connect more people with nature to improve their mental and physical health.
People who live and work in Surrey are being invited to fill in an interactive online map to highlight the opportunities already available and help shape provision in future.
People are being asked to map the activities and places where they experience nature – everything from green spaces, local parks, waterways and community allotments to walking, cycling and outdoor sports.
The pins and comments on the map will feed into a project aimed at providing more opportunities for communities to get involved in their natural environment, in line with any Covid-19 restrictions in place at the time.
Surrey Heartlands Integrated Care System is among seven partnerships in England to have been awarded government funding for the initiative as a “test and learn” site.
It’s all part of an initiative known as green social prescribing, which involves supporting people to take part in nature-based activities to enhance their wellbeing.
Surrey Heartlands secured the funding through joint working between adult social care, NHS partners across the Surrey system and the environment sector. A wide range of partner organisations including district and borough councils and voluntary and community groups supported the bid which was submitted to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, working with the Department of Health and Social Care and Natural England.
Sinead Mooney, Surrey County Council’s Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care, Public Health and Domestic Abuse, said: “Mental health is so important but the pandemic has taken such a toll for many of us. As we look towards better times ahead, this exciting new project will enable more people to discover the great outdoors on our doorstep and the wellbeing benefits it can bring.
“We’re fortunate in Surrey to have wonderful countryside but this is also about making the most of smaller spaces, whether it’s a raised bed, a balcony or some unused ground. We know of inventive schemes already up and running in Surrey which have shown that, even in built-up areas, the natural environment can be a source of support for wellbeing.
“We’re committed as a council and with our partners to tackling health inequalities and addressing the wider factors which affect health. This scheme will help towards that goal, so that no one is left behind.”
Dr Claire Fuller, Senior Responsible Officer for Surrey Heartlands Integrated Care System added: “This has been a really tough year so looking after the mental health and wider wellbeing of our population and finding ways to reduce loneliness and isolation has never been more important.
“Securing this additional funding is great news and it will enable us to do even more to support our communities during what remains a challenging time for many. We’ve seen the benefits of social prescribing and it’s really exciting to be expanding this into outdoor and nature-based activities that we know can have a really positive impact on people’s health and wellbeing and help change people’s lives for the better.”
Residents are being invited to tell the project via the Commonplace website about outdoor activities or spaces they know about and how they feel about them – including the local park, feeding the ducks, walking groups, litter-picking groups, outdoor sports or any other opportunity. The website also has more information about the project and accessibility details.
Community groups – whether resident associations, charities, friends of local parks, Scout or Guide groups or any other group which draws together local people – are being invited to get involved in designing and producing the project. Groups which are interested can visit the Surrey Says website.