Social Prescribing, Assets and Relationships in Communities (SPARC) Network

The SPARC Network is a cross-institutional initiative led by academic partners from the University of Birmingham, The Open University, and York St. John’s University and practice partners from The Active Wellbeing Society (TAWS) Birmingham, Wirral ABCD Network, and Gwent Public Health. It includes members working in local government, public health, housing across the UK and abroad. We are concerned with asset-based approaches to social prescribing, addressing health inequalities, and coproducing a social model of wellbeing. The SPARC Network is a space for members to share experiences, knowledge, and developments, identify opportunities for collaboration, research and change, and engage in ongoing relationship-building and learning.


The SPARC Network developed out of our shared interest in social prescribing, a health care innovation that has been widely adopted across the UK and abroad to address the wider determinants of health by referring people to community-based activities. We are particularly interested in developing our understanding of the changing relationships between individuals, communities, voluntary and community organisations, local authorities and health care as a result of social prescribing, and whether these changes are moving towards the aspired transformation of health and social care systems towards a social model of wellbeing. Most social prescribing research focuses on evaluating the impact of SP on individual health and its cost-effectiveness for health and social care providers, with less attention paid to its relational nature and transformative dynamics.

Aims and Approach

We are interested in advancing a social model of wellbeing and more sustainable and less unequal health and social care. The pandemic and new legislation offer possibilities for systems change, but there is limited guidance on how to address a range of structural barriers to co-production and evaluation.

We have adopted an asset-based approach to integrate the knowledge of our academic partners about community co-production with the innovative approaches to social prescribing of our practice partners. Our aim is to examine ways in which asset-based approaches to social prescribing can enable local communities to coproduce better health and wellbeing outcomes and transformative and sustainable change.

We take an asset-based approach to action research to facilitate joint inquiry, learning and interventions driven by the assets and needs of communities. We believe this will create community-driven research and learning infrastructures that empower communities and establish effective cross-sector partnerships.

How to engage

SPARC LinkedIn Group

Network Lead: Koen Bartels

SPARC Network Sessions (online/hybrid)

Download the full schedule.

More than a landlord: Keeping people happy and healthy at home
Wednesday 15 November 2023, 1-2pm
Speaker: Sarah Parsons (Housing Association Charity Trust)

Social prescribing: what’s strong and what’s wrong
Wednesday 6 December, 1-2pm
Speaker: Koen Bartels (University of Birmingham)

Nature-based social prescribing: How to teach it in an inclusive way?
Wednesday 24 January, 1-2pm
Speaker: Samantha Pywell (University of Central Lancashire)

Making social prescribing transformative: Creating an asset-based community of practice
Wednesday 28 February, 1-2pm 
Speaker: Elizabeth Woodcock (University of Birmingham)

Growing wellbeing: Towards a green space infrastructure in the Wirral
Wednesday 20 March, 1-2pm
Speaker: Duane Chong (Grow-Wellbeing)

Taking action on the social determinants of health
Wednesday 15 May, 1-2pm
Speaker: Luisa Buzelli, Lucinda Allen and Leo Ewbank (Health Foundation)

Co-producing community wellbeing: How Co- can you go?
Wednesday 19 June, 1-2pm
Speaker: Elke Loeffler (Open University)

Core Partners

Koen Bartels – INLOGOV, University of Birmingham,

Emma Davies-McIntosh – Integrated Wellbeing Networks, Gwent Public Health,

Keiran McKenzie – The Active Wellbeing Society Birmingham,

Elke Loeffler – The Open University Business School,

Owen Powell – York Business School, York St. John’s University,

Jessica Pykett – School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham,

Chris Shaw – Wirral ABCD Network,

Elizabeth Woodcock – INLOGOV, University of Birmingham,

Network partners

Local Government Association

Social Prescribing Network

Wales School for Social Prescribing Research

Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research and Data



Position paper

Presented at the Cross-Sector Social Interactions (CSSI) Symposium on “Partnering for Resilience and Transformation”, Wageningen University, The Netherlands, (22-24 June 2022)


Brief overview of the key aims, underpinnings and approach of the SPARC Network

Policy Briefings


Tackling Wellbeing Inequalities through Social Prescribing: Co-producing a Community-Driven Research and Learning Infrastructure – April 2023-2024

This project, funded by the Research England Participatory Research Fund, is a collaboration between the University of Birmingham and The Active Wellbeing Society.

We will co-produce a community-driven research and learning infrastructure for social prescribing to tackle health and wellbeing inequalities. Our action research will focus on enabling community groups and partner organisations to develop their asset-based approaches to social prescribing in a disadvantaged neighbourhood in Birmingham. Our innovative participatory methodology of building a Community of Practice will support them in learning how to create more sustainable and equal relationships, better evidence impact, and realise more structural change in health and wellbeing. We will organise four bi-monthly Community of Practice meetings with local wellbeing groups and organisations and GP practices at the heart of the community as well as city-wide partners. We will also produce a policy brief and organise a dissemination event for wider partners and stakeholders.

Co-producing a social model of health through Welzijn op Recept (social prescribing) – April 2023-2026

This project, funded by Dutch health care research funder ZonMw, is a collaboration between Erasmus University Rotterdam, University of Birmingham, the Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies, Free University Amsterdam, University of Amsterdam, Landelijk Kennisnetwerk Welzijn op Recept, and LSA Bewoners.

While we know that individual wellbeing is socially produced, current preventative approaches to wellbeing in the Dutch health care system continue to be mainly individually-focused and to be considered as mainly the responsibility of institutionalized health care professionals. The goal of this project is to implement and institutionalize a social model of wellbeing: a broad community-based approach to wellbeing that recognizes the complex social genealogy of wellbeing and builds on inclusive collaboration across care, wellbeing and community organizations. We do so in the context of the innovative initiative, Welzijn op Recept (WoR). We set up learning and change trajectories in two disadvantaged areas where WoR is currently applied. Insights emerging out of these local learning processes are used as a basis for the development of a scaling-up strategy to facilitate a systemic transition towards a social model of wellbeing.