The popularity of social prescribing has grown in recent years following a series of high-profile recommendations in scientific reviews, political reports, and media coverage. Social prescribing has the potential to address multiple health and social problems, but few studies have examined how it works. To explore the ways by which social prescribing may be beneficial to individuals undertaking socially prescribed activity (SPA). A qualitative interview study involving people attending a range of SPA. Participants were purposively recruited from a multi-activity social prescribing provider. Data were collected using semi-structured face-to-face interviews. Analysis used a thematic approach, in which emerging themes were contextualised with interview transcripts and findings from existing literature. The study identified five themes, which together formed a journey of engagement and participation. While not always present for any one individual, the themes occurred in a consistent order: receiving professional support for social problems; engaging with others through participation in SPA; learning different ways to relate to other people and developing new skills; changing perceptions by realising personal assets and becoming open to the possibility of new futures; and developing a positive outlook on the present while moving forwards in pursuit of future goals and better health. SPA appears to benefit individuals by a process that begins with personalised professional help to address social problems and moves through engagement with activities and others, to the recognition of personal and social assets and opportunities. © British Journal of General Practice 2020.