Getting back to nature with Aquafolium

Mark de Bernhardt Lane is a social entrepreneur who started Aquafolium, a social business that is developing ways to provide proven health and social benefits to people through reconnecting with nature. Aquafolium was recently awarded £3,000 from the Transform Ageing programme to help them purchase essential equipment to build their social enterprise.

Mark tells us about how they got their idea off the ground.

This is part of an ongoing series of blogs from social entrepreneurs engaged in health and care. This recognises the important role they play in generating and implementing innovative ideas and practice, and will be used encourage the health and care system to work more proactively with social entrepreneurs. If you would be interested in sharing your experience, please contact anne.donnelly@swahsn.com.

How – and why – did you start your social entrepreneurial journey?

My wife and I have a strong personal and professional connection with nature-based work. We increasingly moved away from training skills when we observed the therapeutic benefit that customers with physical and mental health conditions demonstrated from just being in nature. From attention deficits, trauma, anxiety, stress, depression and memory, we discovered that we could identify and start to measure the benefit.

The testimonies of the people we worked with really backed this up and we realised that we could help people (and society) reconnect with nature to nurture, and thus the idea behind the social enterprise was born. We were lucky to have some good contacts and experience in working with older people. We jumped at the opportunity to work on the Transform Ageing programme, which aims to improve the experience of later life and support social entrepreneurs to deliver solutions to some of the challenges of an ageing society. We were pleased to receive a Do It award, which enabled us to purchase essential equipment, and we have not looked back since.

What has been your experience since then?

We have coincided with the zeitgeist around social prescribing, alternative therapies such as mindfulness and the focus on social enterprise as a way of unlocking skilled and ambition (to do good) with community capacity. It’s been a very good experience so far. Everyone is looking at ways to help bring new innovations to market, think in new ways to try and solve problems, issues and social disconnects that have been increasingly intransigent to date.

What most inspires you about being a social entrepreneur?

We love working together to the benefit our clients, our commissioners, society at large and ourselves. It is a great source of motivation and reward.

Can you share a hard-won lesson you’ve learnt about what makes for a successful (or unsuccessful) social entrepreneur?

Getting funding and getting business are two very different things. Our journey really started with the belief and support of a dynamic local community care and healthy living organisation who first commissioned us. Do not mistake funding for business income. Use funding to build your ‘business’ – so when the funding stops you don’t. There is also a world of opportunity out there – they come in all shapes and sizes – the skill is putting what little time you have into the ones that yield the most useful benefit for creating a long-term business whilst balancing the books with day-to-day living.

What change could we make that would do most to support social entrepreneurs in health and care?

More effectively enable social prescribing to pay for services provided by small social enterprise. Encourage more commissioners to provide prototyping money and work ALONGSIDE social entrepreneurs to prototype solutions. We need to sit closer together and develop a level of trust and understanding that whilst we are commercial – we are not just ‘in it for the money’.

Can you tell us about something you’re currently working on in health and care – that others might be able to contribute to?

Currently working on the role that technology can play to bring nature into the lives of people who are deeply disconnected from it and ultimately to get them reconnected with it.

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