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How we set up a social prescribing service during lockdown

As in many areas, the Social Prescribing Link Worker role is new in Lytham St Anne’s Primary Care Network. Two link workers were employed in March 2020, and in the midst of us learning the role, the country almost immediately went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Working from home with restrictions on face-to-face meetings had an impact on the way we were able to reach patients, and the closure of local groups made it increasingly difficult to carry out the usual objectives of this kind of role.

Like many areas, Lytham St Anne’s saw an incredible response from local volunteers who were keen to help their neighbours, particularly the elderly, vulnerable and those advised to shield by the government.

We had access to the list of shielding patients and worked alongside primary care colleagues to contact each of these patients by telephone for a supportive chat, finding out what additional needs they may have during lockdown. For those that needed help with shopping, collecting medications or dog walking, we were able to signpost or refer to local mutual aid volunteer groups, as well as to NHS volunteers.

For patients who were found to be especially isolated or lonely, or struggling with their mental health, we provided regular check-up calls, in addition to signposting to telephone befriending services.

We found that patients were appreciative of the calls, even if they had no additional needs; they were grateful that they hadn’t been forgotten. Others chose to receive a weekly wellbeing call from us and reported that this helped them to get through the difficult months of lockdown.

Inevitably, a major challenge of this period has been the lack of active community groups and services to prescribe to patients. While some groups have gone online to hold virtual meetings, the large elderly population in Lytham St Anne’s faced barriers to accessing these groups. Age UK Lancashire provided tablets on loan to people who were without the relevant technology and there were volunteers available to teach people how to access apps such as Facetime or Zoom. Despite this, many patients proved to be reluctant to make the move online, and others do not have access to the internet at all. Furthermore, we found that many local groups did not create an online presence, and have simply been waiting to be allowed to meet again in person.

One prominent local group, Just Good Friends, usually provides regular meetings including dancing, quizzes, musical entertainment and exercise sessions. During lockdown, the group leaders kept in touch with their members via telephone and once guidelines lifted to allow people to meet outdoors in small groups, members began to meet in a local park in socially distanced “pods” of up to six. They have recently started some chair-based exercise sessions in the same pods. We have been able to refer new members to this group.

Although groups and services have been restricted during the pandemic, we have been able to build relationships with local group leaders, establishing a good network of contacts which will be invaluable as the community comes to terms with the “new normal”. We have also started seeing some patients for face-to-face appointments and hope to see more and more groups opening up following lockdown, depending on further restrictions that may arise. Drawing from our learning and the need to work more across sectors, we are looking at developing a local Social Prescribing Network in Lytham.

Sign up for our virtual Transforming Healthcare Together Conference to hear more stories about cross-sector partnership working during Covid. We’ll hear from some amazing speakers who will offer local, national and system perspectives.

What works for setting up cross sector partnerships?

Two voluntary sector leaders taking part in our Building Health Partnerships: Self-care programme share what they think works when setting up cross-sector partnerships. 


Dr Simon D Hankins
CEO, BS3 Community Development (formerly Southville Community Development Association)


‘Patience, building trust, respect, recognising the expertise that exists within each partner organisation, identifying and working to achieve mutual benefits, stumbling across people with the appropriate mind-sets and attitudes and people that you feel that you can work with and, overlaid with a huge dose of realism are, for me, all key components in establishing partnership working between the voluntary and public sectors.

From my experience at BS3 Community Development charity, to achieve a targeted, short-lived or enduring working relationship with parts of the public sector, it takes time, lots of time; it requires patience from all involved as we get to know one-another and build trust and confidence in each other, after all, why would you work with someone you don’t know or with an organisation that you have no idea how good a quality their services are? However, the rewards can be immense for all parties and particularly the people that you are setting-out to work with, support, help or whatever it is that is being developed; so it can be worth the effort as long as the statutory sector and VCSE (Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise) sector partners approach the development of the working relationship on an equal-voice and mutual respect basis.’


Jacqui Bremner
Herefordshire Carers


‘I think true partnership working is when you know that you both work as hard for your partner to succeed in the joint venture, as you do for your own organisation, because you know that failing impacts on you both!!’

Are you ready to apply for core funding?

Core funding is a bit of a holy grail – highly valued and very hard to come by. At IVAR, we’ve spent quite a bit of time talking to funders who give it and organisations who receive it. Read on for suggestions about how you can make the case for core funding and ensure your organisation is ready to make the most of it.


There is no single prescription; the terms core costs, operating costs and central costs are often used interchangeably within the sector. They describe essential running costs: including support costs; income generation and governance activities. Some funders also provide unrestricted funding or strategic grants which as less restricted that project funding. The important thing is to make sure you and your funders have a shared understanding of what it means from the outset.


How would you use core funding?


Core funding provides voluntary organisations with an opportunity – and the resources – to think, plan, test new things, improve services or just ensure a bit of security. Some organisations use their funding to support strong back office functions like finance, IT and human resources, all of which ensure the organisation is as effective as it can be in achieving its mission. Other organisations use core funding to develop or do some strategic thinking. They might undertake some research, design and test new approaches to improve their performance or adapt in times of rapid change. These sorts of activities are unlikely to happen without the space and time away from service delivery that core funding provides.

Organisations have told us that core or unrestricted funding has helped them to:


  • Become more confident

  • Engage in statutory consultations and service redesign

  • Develop strategic relationships that have led to further funding

  • Expand services into new areas

  • Establish new partnerships

‘We have more confidence now to be at the decision-making table with strategic partners. I feel like we are operating at a better, more strategic level locally and that is new – [we’re] really raising our profile in the local community.’


‘We are moving towards feeling an important part of the local infrastructure – I think part of this is us having greater confidence that we have value’


Make it easy for funders to say yes


Making a difference to beneficiaries


Funders obviously want to know that their money is making the most difference to beneficiaries as possible. Sometimes it can be tricky to demonstrate this sort of change/impact from a core funding grant, especially if you’re spending the money on research or strategic development. However, in our experience core funding used for this type of work can lead to some far reaching changes which do ultimately benefit communities and even strengthen whole sectors. Demonstrating how you align with a funder’s objectives or their thematic areas of focus (e.g. young people) should help you make the case.


Making a step-change


Funders often want to see a ‘step change’ in the way services are delivered, so it’s important to demonstrate that you’ve got the vision and ambition as well as the skills to follow through. Make sure you have a business plan to outline this. Be flexible – most funders don’t mind if plans change or adapt, as long as you can show why a change is the best course of action.


Leadership, leadership, leadership


Funders will be looking for strong leadership to ride the tide of organisational change. If they’re looking to strengthen your sector, they might look specifically for organisations who are well networked and already play a leadership or coordination role, and can deliver goals that they share.

Organisational readiness


We’ve found that organisations embarking on any kind of change often face a number of challenges which, again, appear to centre around leadership. Grantees have told us that as their organisations changed, so did their governance requirements. They needed new experience and skills to help them made big decisions such as buying a new property, merger, making changes to a funding model or seeking new partners. Making sure you have good support in place, including a strong board of trustees and knowing when and where you can access some professional development or mentoring support will help ensure your organisation is ready for core funding.

Ultimately, the organisations that are able to make the most of their core funding have been led by committed, passionate individuals with clear visions for their organisations and an understanding of how to manage strategic change. As one organisation told us:


‘overall this is about improving the quality and quantity of our services’