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

The SPARC Network is a cross-institutional initiative of academic partners from the University of Birmingham, Bangor University, and the University of Strathclyde and practice partners from The Active Wellbeing Society (TAWS) Birmingham, Wirral ABCD Network, and Gwent Public Health. 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 core partners and wider partners 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 NHS 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 – details to be confirmed)

  • Wednesday 21 September 2022 – 1-2pm – Asset-based approaches to evaluation
  • Wednesday 23 November 2022 – 1-2pm – Asset-based social prescribing showcase
  • Wednesday 25 January 2023 – 1-2pm – Health and wellbeing systems across the devolved nations
  • Wednesday 22 March 2023 – 1-2pm – Asset-based social prescribing showcase
  • Wednesday 24 May 2023 – 1-2pm – Co-production and systems change
  • Wednesday 26 July 2023 – 1-2pm – Asset-based social prescribing showcase

Core Members

  • Koen Bartels – INLOGOV, University of Birmingham
  • Emma Davies-McIntosh – Integrated Wellbeing Networks, Gwent Public Health
  • Michelle Howard – The Active Wellbeing Society Birmingham
  • Elke Loeffler – Strathclyde Business School, University of Strathclyde
  • Owen Powell – INLOGOV, University of Birmingham
  • Jessica Pykett – School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham
  • Chris Shaw – Wirral ABCD Network
  • Elizabeth Woodcock – School of History, Philosophy and Social Sciences, Bangor University

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