The Bishop of London stresses the vital importance of recognising the role of Faith in Social Prescribing

June 27, 2024

Ahead of the launch of our crucial piece of research on the role of faith communities in social prescribing, launching in early 2025, ChurchWorks’ Esther Platt attended the 2024 International Social Prescribing Conference. Read her reflections on the event below.

On 19th-20th June, the National Academy for Social Prescribing and the Social Prescribing Network hosted the International Social Prescribing Conference. I was delighted to be present and to have many conversations throughout the conference. 

The pervading theme of the day was the monumental value of community in improving health. Cormac Russell, author and founding director of Nurture Development, articulated the potency of relationships in his keynote speech. ‘The good life is not being surrounded by a variety of programmes to meet your every need. The good life is about building a network of community around each individual,’ shared Cormac. In contrast to the traditional model of care which centres on medicine and health being the absence of disease, he presented a model of holistic wellbeing which equally prioritises the mental, social, spiritual and physical. 

While we don’t want to entirely do away with the medical model and the treatment of disease, Cormac argued that this model needs to be placed in the context of the more holistic understanding of wellbeing. He stressed that community cannot be forced by institutions. Communities themselves must be empowered to form their own relationships and connections, and take responsibility for their own health, with health professionals being accessible through GP surgeries or pharmacies for when medical care is needed. 

Cormac’s emphasis on the importance of community and relationship coincided neatly with the Bishop of London’s call to ‘take seriously the role faith groups can play in tackling health inequalities.’ Bishop Sarah, who before ordination was the Chief Nursing Officer for NHS England, called for a more holistic understanding of health beyond the mere absence of disease. She emphasised the importance of health being not only individual but communal, and not only physical but also spiritual. All human beings, regardless of belief system, are spiritual. We ask questions about meaning and purpose and we experience awe and the sense of something greater than ourselves. It matters that we take seriously the role of spiritual care in promoting the health of our society. 

Faith groups can of course play this role, and social prescribing to chaplaincy services, bereavement cafes, and other spaces of reflection can be transformative for individuals. But their role in this vision goes beyond supporting the faith of individuals. Faith groups also offer community and a consistent presence in an increasingly disconnected society. The holistic model of wellbeing that Cormac Russell advocated for, can be found in faith groups across the country. A faith group is present in every community and thousands are already offering wellbeing support to those of all faiths and none. The classic example is the local church toddler group: they exist for all families in the community who need more connection, not just parents who already attend the church. From vaccination clinics to mental health courses, Warm Welcome Spaces to art therapy groups, faith groups are supporting so many communities that are the most deprived and the most unreached by the NHS. 

If we want to see a healthy UK, we have to support and resource communities to take action for their own wellbeing. Where this is being done across the country in faith groups, we have to recognise, resource and partner with faith groups for the benefit of everyone in those communities. As Bishop Sarah shared ‘It is hard to understate the value of faith communities for public health.’

This is why we’re thrilled to share our research on the impact of faith engagement in social prescribing on 30th January 2025 at 11am online. We would love to see you there. 

You can find out more here and express your interest in the event here

Written by
Esther Platt
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