Wild Being: supporting social prescribing in Reading

On the 15th July, Reading Voluntary Action (RVA) is launching Wild Being, a new social prescribing project in Reading. Both The MERL and Reading Museum (as Museums Partnership Reading) are proud and delighted to be involved.

In this blog, join our Learning and Engagement Manager, Phillippa Heath, as she introduces Wild Being, explains what we will be doing, and shares how museum engagement can support health and wellbeing in the community.

A photograph of a Dementia Action Week event at The MERL.

What is Wild Being?

Co-funded by the National Academy of Social Prescribing (NASP) and Arts Council England (ACE), Reading’s Wild Being project is supported thanks to the Thriving Communities Fund. This funding was launched this year, and is designed to raise awareness of (and opportunities for) social prescribing, increasing social connectedness and helping communities and people most affected by the impact of COVID-19.

Social prescribing enables people to connect with non-medical community support – from local organisations to communities. Reading has eight social prescriber link workers across our town, and their role is to take a holistic approach to people’s health and wellbeing. They connect people referred to them (whether by clinical agencies or self-referral) to community groups and statutory services for practical and emotional support.

By connecting many different local organisations, Wild Being seeks to create new and varied social prescribing opportunities across our town. With the support of social prescribing link workers, it will feature three key strands of activity across arts and heritage, gardening and growing, and sport. The gardening and growing strand will be led by the Reading Green Wellbeing Network. The sports strand will be managed by Sport in Mind. And we are thrilled that The MERL, on behalf of Museums Partnership Reading, is acting as the lead for arts and heritage.

A group of visitors in The MERL café.

How and why is The MERL involved?

At The MERL, our community programmes support the Five Ways to Wellbeing through opportunities like volunteering, gardening and growing, hands-on heritage, and ageing well activities.

Over the years – with thanks to collaborative work with partners in health, social care, and the voluntary sector – we have realised the hugely positive impact these can have on health and wellbeing, and how they can help reduce loneliness and social isolation.

Feedback from our programmes has included:

  • ‘This is the first time in years that I’ve felt like a normal person’
  • ‘It doesn’t matter who you are once you are in the group, you get absorbed in what you are doing’
  • ‘It is so fulfilling’
  • ‘The priority is the human interaction, the personal warmth’
Photograph of a Dementia Action Week event at The MERL.

Our programme of activities

The Wild Being programme of activity at The MERL will see us both continue existing programmes and expand on them with new activities!

Here’s what you can expect:

Ageing well health and wellbeing programmes: singing for health opportunities supporting those with symptoms of long COVID; reading for health opportunities with Compass Recovery College; memory-making and sharing programmes, including piloting a new drop-in Chatty Café at The MERL.

Young people’s skills and development programmes: from career and employability programmes at The MERL, to media and digital skills workshops at Reading Museum. We will also be running a number of confidence building training sessions at Reading Museum.

Creative and hands-on heritage programmes: at both museums there will be creative opportunities inspired by our collections.

Volunteering programmes: our volunteering programmes will be enhanced by a new buddy system.

Green health: as part of our membership of the Reading Green Wellbeing Network, we will be working with partners to provide opportunities for growing in The MERL garden and in pop-up location across Reading.

Getting active: working with Sport in Mind, we will be offering new opportunities in our museum spaces such as Tai Chi in The MERL garden, as well as new opportunities for mums and babies born during the pandemic.

A gardening volunteer working at The MERL.

What next?

As the programme develops, we will keep you updated via blogs and social media. And if you are nearby, you can expect to see us out and about in various locations across Reading talking about the programme.

In the meantime, if you have any questions or would like to discover more, please contact Phillippa at merlevents@reading.ac.uk.

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