The 2019 conference was a celebration of ten years of the NHS Forest and green space network, and it was held at the site where the first NHS Forest tree was planted a decade before: Alder Hey. The event was chaired by Gideon Ben-Tovim OBE, who is the Innovation Agency chair, chair of Nature Connected, and adviser on the natural environment to Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor.

Throughout the day, delegates were encouraged to consider the role of the NHS as an anchor institution, through green space, health walks, engaging with school children and local communities, and encouraging pollinators.

The Health Foundation’s Laura Wallace presented their report, Building healthier communities: the role of the NHS as an anchor institution, and gave examples of how NHS organisations have acted as anchor institutions via local food procurement, forging partnerships with local charities and enabling access to green space. Ian Stenton of Liverpool University Hospitals explained how his organisation used the report’s findings to develop their own sustainability strategy, including food planting at a community centre, establishing a ‘men’s shed’ where Macmillan can engage with their clients, and using local labour for the construction of a new hospital.

Forest Schools were the theme of a presentation by mental health practitioners Carl Dutton and Louise Hickey. They explained the concept of the Forest School approach and how it can be used to support the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people, particularly with the NHS as an anchor institution.

During the workshop, several challenges were flagged by the delegates which might hinder the NHS’s ability to act as an anchor institution; these included bureaucracy, risk aversion, lack of overview and short-term funding. The participants then laid out recommendations, ranging from green space NHS leadership and assessments, engaging key partners, links to social prescribing, creating funded pilots and investing in sustainable travel.


The term ‘anchor institution’ describes the role and responsibility that place-based organisations hold with respect to their local community. These large, public sector organisations are unlikely to relocate and have a significant stake in a geographical area. The size, scale and reach of the NHS means it influences the health and wellbeing of communities by being a local employer, a model for behaviour and by its physical presence, while the land around NHS properties is a significant public land asset and a potential community green health asset which has the potential to benefit patients, staff and the wider community.

This theme was inspired by the Health Foundation’s 2019 report, ‘Building healthier communities: the role of the NHS as an anchor institution’.


  • Introduction: From Chair Gideon Ben-Tovim OBE
  • Keynote speech: The value of green space for healthcare: Pam Warhurst CBE, Incredible Edible Todmorden
  • 10 years of the NHS Forest: Looking back and looking forward: Sarah Dandy and Carey Newson, Centre for Sustainable Healthcare
  • Anchor institutions and the role of green space: Laura Wallace, the Health Foundation
  • Community engagement, green space and anchor institutions: Ian Stenton, Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Workshop: How do we engage with the local community to enable a healthcare site to be an anchor institution?
  • Alder Hey’s experience of engaging children in green space: Carl Dutton, mental health practitioner and psychotherapist and Louise Hickey, mental health practitioner and drama therapist
  • Site walk


“The environment we live in, our sense of belonging and the food we eat have been demonstrated over the decades to be key determinants of our public and our planet’s health… Plant trees and fruit bushes across our health estate from hospital to doctors’ surgery and let’s see the power of nature do its thing. Stop talking, start acting.”

– Pam Warhurst CBE, Incredible Edible Todmorden

“The NHS Forest Conference is an amazing opportunity to hear about the brilliant ways in which different healthcare organisations are using their green spaces for the benefits of patients, staff and local communities. There’s so much best practice out there, it’s inspiring to hear direct from project leads and to make connections with other people trying to bring about positive change”

– Ian Stenton, Liverpool University Hospitals


The following awards were presented by Rachel Stancliffe, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare:

The Largest Number of Trees Planted for the NHS Forest in the last year
Most innovative NHS Forest site
Best community engagement by an NHS Forest site

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