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How we're supporting mental health with unused spaces

Book open Reading time: 3 mins

Laura Mills and Quoc Truong, Corporate Social Responsibility Managers at NHS Property Services, share their reflections about how we have transformed previously unused spaces into social prescribing sites to support local communities.


Did you know 1 in 4 people each year will face a mental health problem of some kind (Mind, 2024)? This number is rising and as owners of 10% of the NHS estate, we know that we have an important role to play in helping to tackle this.

NHS Property Services has 3,000 buildings across England - that is a lot of space that can be used to help improve community wellbeing.

Social prescribing is one way of doing this and is something we - and our NHS partners - are very passionate about.

We’ve come a long way since 2020 when we launched a programme to transform vacant spaces in our buildings into indoor and outdoor hubs for all sorts of activities. These included therapy, gardening groups, food banks, baby banks and exercise. In our first year, we developed 21 sites. By the time this financial year ends in March 2024, we’ll have developed over 100 which we’re so proud of.

Thousands of people across the country have felt the tangible benefits that community-based activities have on improving wellbeing. They also really help to tackle health inequalities.

We don’t transform anything on our own; we work closely with ICBs, Trusts and the third sector to identify suitable locations and redesign spaces. This often involves a mixture of reconfigurations, extensions and refurbishments to make sure each site meets the needs of the local community and we invest time into building strong relationships and truly understanding the local situation.

Some of our newest sites

The sites we’ve developed range in size and use and provide a wide range of services including mental health services, baby banks and wraparound services, sensory rooms and gardens, plus community allotments and kitchen space for local charities. Here are some examples:

  • Flourish Wellbeing Hub: We created a community based social prescribing hub in Wallasey for a range of health and wellbeing services supporting vulnerable people, facilitated by Citizens Advice. Services include financial and legal advice, family and carers supports, mental health services and fitness activities.
  • The Unity Centre: We redeveloped vacant space at Whitton Clinic in Ipswich to create a vibrant community hub. The space provides a range of wellbeing services including emotional and practical support for families and refugees, fitness classes and walking groups, and a reading charity aiming to improve literacy across the town. The site also hosts a community cafe providing rehabilitation support to recovering veterans.
  • Talke Health Centre: We developed a new outdoor space at Talke Health Clinic for the local community to learn gardening skills like planting and caring for vegetables in raised beds.