Mark Swift, founder of Wellbeing Enterprises, has a vision of a social movement for health that will extend the methods his team at Wellbeing Enterprises have been using for the past 11years.
‘Our wider vision and dream is that we will create a social movement for health and we will spread our approaches across the whole of the UK.’
Given his achievements to date as a social entrepreneur that dream seems entirely plausible. Recently celebrated as one of the Nesta New Radicals, Mark’s organisation has supported close to 20,000 people to improve their health and wellbeing. In the process Wellbeing Enterprises won a prestigious HSJ award in 2015 – the first non-clinical organisation to do so.
Mark was a public health improvement specialist in the NHS but was disappointed at the lack of resource and attention mental health received, ‘just through sheer frustration I decided I would take action’.
Mark is clear on the problem his organisation solves. ‘We know that a significant number of people, about a fifth of all people, who go to their GP practice will actually be there not because of a medical reason, but because a social issue is exacerbating a health issue’.
How they work to improve each person’s wellbeing is as diverse as each patient they work with. They spend time to understand where the issues lie and the develop a structured plan for a patient’s wellbeing.
The success they’ve been having is evident and tangible – ‘our outcomes are in many instances on a par and exceed clinical standard treatments.’
‘Cycling is your recipe for wellbeing’
Meet “Mike”. A man in his mid-60s, diagnosed with dementia but until recently coping very well. Things took a turn for the worse and Mike, accompanied by his wife and carer went to their GP for help.
The GP identified the problem was not caused by clinical procedures or medication and referred Mike to Wellbeing Enterprises.
Wellbeing Enterprises discovered that Mike had been an amateur cyclist. ‘Unfortunately, recently he’d started getting lost when he was going cycling’, Mark says.
‘In the end he actually went missing for twelve hours, his wife was out of her mind, they phoned the police and tracked him down – she thought he was dead in a ditch.’
Following that Mike had stopped cycling. Mark’s team thought that might have been an issue – ‘That was his passion, his skill, his strength, his talent. Because he wasn’t doing that anymore, his wellbeing levels dropped and consequently his symptoms increased’
Wellbeing Enterprises found a solution – a local cycling club. They arranged for Mike to be picked up and taken home after every cycle.
The result – ‘Six weeks later his symptoms had subsided, his mental health had improved, his mood had improved, and importantly his wife’s stress levels had improved and she was getting the respite and break she needed from her caring duties.’
‘A really simple story which at no cost whatsoever our team was able to tap into this incredible energy in the community and help people stay well for longer.’
Wellbeing Enterprise use a social prescription model. They use non-medical prescriptions to tackle social problems affecting patients.
These evidence-based social prescriptions include stress-management, life skills courses and interest groups to help people whose health is affected by isolation and loneliness.
The list of activities this includes is nearly endless. ‘We do tango dancing on prescription, or ukulele on prescription, Nordic walking, drama classes’, claims Mark, ‘All kinds of creative social solutions that are about mobilising people strengths and capabilities’.
Having proven their value over several years they are now commissioned to provide social prescriptions across Cheshire and Merseyside as well as providing consultancy and training across the UK.
In Halton, Wellbeing has had particular success. ‘We integrated these approaches with all 17 General Practices’, says Mark, ‘you go to your GP and the GP could legitimately offer you a prescription for learning, a wellbeing review, volunteering opportunities, social action programmes.’
After initially being rejected for their first UnLtd award, ‘an important challenge’ according to Mark, Wellbeing Enterprises received support from the Big Venture Challenge programme in 2014.
Now Wellbeing Enterprises are partners on UnLtd’s Lead the Change Programme – a scheme supporting 12 organisations to provide start-up funding and development support for social venture creation in their communities.
‘We’ve been tapping into this entrepreneurial spirit in our communities and we’ve found the most extraordinary people’, claims Mark, ‘I call them “sparkly-eyed people”, they’re out there, they’re in every community, they’re fired up and passionate.’
They support an ecosystem of social entrepreneurs to tackle mental health issues, isolation and falls prevention among the elderly. Interestingly, they’ve found that many of their award winners are people living with a disability or long-term health condition.
Inspired by the work they’ve been doing, Mark exudes confidence in a model of health that has patients at the centre, ‘I think the lead the change programme is a perfect example of how you can actively engage citizens as the solution and co-designers of interventions that will address these problems.’
For Mark that confidence extends to his organisation, its impact and its potential in the future -‘I’m really hopeful that this is our time to shine basically. The policy context, the evidence base and the political will have all caught up with our vision for the future of healthcare provision’