Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Scale up health inequality prevention and intervention strategies

Apply for funding to carry out a pilot study for the Mobilising Cultural and Natural Assets to Combat Health Inequalities programme.

The study should focus on how to scale up small, local approaches for addressing health inequalities.

You must be:

  • a UK resident
  • hosted by a research organisation eligible for AHRC funding.

Your project must:

  • relate to health outcomes
  • involve a range of arts and humanities disciplines
  • engage with other academic disciplines
  • include collaborations with partners from outside academia.

The full economic cost of your study can be up to £180,000. AHRC will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Who can apply

Applications for pilot studies are encouraged from those working both with existing and newly developed partnerships for improving population health and social wellbeing in the UK. Ensuring these partnerships fit into new and emerging local and national intervention structures will be key.

Projects may be approached from grass roots through to a strategic level.  However, it is essential that proposals articulate how the project may influence at a strategic level in the longer term.

We are particularly interested in receiving applications to this funding opportunity from researchers and practitioners working within areas of social deprivation that feature low on socio-economic indices. A strong place-based focus is required, however you may draw on input and expertise from other areas in designing your project and assembling your team.

Projects must relate to health outcomes and include collaborations with partners, including for example:

  • non-academic partners, including, for example:
    • NHS trusts
    • local authorities
    • local arts and nature organisations
    • the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector
  • interdisciplinary research collaborations
  • health and social care practitioners.

Proposals should be submitted by the principal investigator, but must be co-created with input from all of the partners and this should be evidenced in the application.

Standard eligibility criteria will apply to this opportunity for UK investigators and research organisations.

Applicants must be resident in the UK and be hosted by an eligible research organisation (higher education institution or recognised independent research organisation) as stated in the AHRC funding guide.

Proposals that only involve collaboration between researchers within the remit of a single research council are out of scope.

What we're looking for

The AHRC, MRC and NERC are looking to fund research to establish how cultural, natural and other community assets can mitigate health inequalities.

Specifically, research should focus on how prevention and intervention strategies can be scaled up from small, locally based approaches benefitting small numbers of individuals, to whole communities. Projects will therefore support the national roll out of place-based approaches to public health as an established part of health policy.


Recent changes to the context of the health ecosystem show major progress in understanding the relationship between cultural, community and natural assets and health and wellbeing. These provide both an opportunity and a challenge. Your application should include details about how the project would exploit these opportunities whilst addressing any challenges.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing Inquiry report, ‘Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing’, argued that arts engagement helps to mitigate the effects of an adverse environment by:

  • influencing maternal nutrition, perinatal mental health and childhood development
  • shaping educational and employment opportunities and tackling chronic distress
  • enabling self-expression and empowerment and overcoming social isolation.

Research demonstrating the impact of arts and culture, nature and other forms of community assets in addressing health inequalities is clear as to the benefits of this approach.

However, as this evidence base exists, we are not looking to fund research around the efficacy of place-based approaches to health, but rather their scalability.

The inclusion of social prescribing within the NHS Universal Personalised Care plan provides a route to tackling health inequalities in the UK. We are seeking proposals that grow the evidence base for health systems change.

Proposals can focus on the systematic integration of place-based prevention and intervention approaches, and how they can be grown and scaled-up to become part of the health architecture.

Proposals should include:

  • the ways that organisations can adapt their offer to allow spread and generalisability
  • how sustainable partnerships can be set up
  • how new partnerships can fit into the existing health ecosystem.

Projects will be pilot studies to explore innovative research directions to initiate an evidence base for further research.

The 2021 Integrated Care Services white paper promotes a general public health approach and promises a legal obligation on local NHS services to collaborate with local government and other local institutions. This presents an immediate opportunity to make equitable access to quality cultural and natural assets a standard part of public health provision nationally.

We are seeking proposals that explore how local, cultural and natural infrastructure ecosystems, and partnerships between them and local government and local NHS institutions, can best be reshaped to place cultural and natural assets at the service of public health.

Proposals must explain how approaches can be scaled up to benefit whole communities and support national policy. This research can include methodology as to how to ensure effective communication and connection between providers and commissioners of health, social care and community-based organisations managing these assets.

We are looking to fund projects that contribute to the evidence base and support community building in the interests of scale-up.

Project expectations

Projects are expected to:

  • facilitate networking, partnership building, stakeholder engagement, and capacity building focused within local communities. This could include time for building collaboration between new partners, allowing for the development of connections with non-academic partners, including:
    • NHS trusts
    • local authorities
    • local arts and nature organisations
    • the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector
  • involve a range of arts and humanities disciplines, including but not limited to:
    • history
    • fine art
    • cultural studies
    • health and medical humanities
    • advanced studies
    • museum studies
  • engage with other academic disciplines including, but not limited to:
    • population health sciences (epidemiology, biostatistics, health psychology, medical sociology)
    • nursing and other allied science
    • environmental science
    • social sciences (including demography and geography)
  • pilot research methodologies and interventions within communities, building the groundwork for potential future investments in this area.

Researchers and practitioners working within areas of social deprivation, which feature low on socioeconomic indices are strongly encouraged to apply.

A strong place-based focus is required. However, you may draw on input and expertise from other areas in designing your project and assembling your team.

Projects must provide a clear articulation of the public health outcomes expected from the prevention and intervention approaches to be co-produced and explain whether implementation is foreseen at a local or national level.

Project partners

These research challenges cannot be addressed from a single disciplinary perspective. Multi-disciplinary and indeed multi-professional approaches are required, which will involve input from diverse stakeholders including:

  • researchers
  • cultural providers
  • service users
  • local authority services
  • NHS trusts and community partners, including managers of cultural, natural and community assets whether or not these are local authority-funded.

It is expected that research would be co-produced with these stakeholders to ensure that outcomes:

  • are translatable into the real world
  • can address the practical challenges faced by those seeking to mobilize cultural, natural and community assets to address health inequalities.

Methodological considerations

Applicants are encouraged to think creatively about their research methodologies, and consider incorporating diverse mixed methodologies, concepts and approaches, alongside traditional arts and humanities’ ones, such as:

  • systems analysis
  • process evaluation
  • action research
  • realist evaluation
  • quality and healthcare improvement
  • delphi technique
  • social network analysis
  • ecological public health
  • geospatial analysis.

The projects should plan to meet the following aims:

  • establish new interdisciplinary research collaborations, within and beyond academia
  • bring together the academic community with key stakeholders in the culture, nature and public health landscape, including charities, health trusts, local councils
  • explore innovative research directions to initiate an evidence base for further research, addressing the need to:
    • address how local cultural and natural infrastructure ecosystems, and partnerships between them and local government and local NHS institutions, can best be reshaped to place cultural and natural assets at the service of public health
    • plan how strategies can be scaled-up to ensure place-based approaches to health are rolled out as part of the national health policy.

Projects must start by 31 January 2022.

How to apply

Applicants should submit proposals through the Joint Electronic Submission system (Je-S).

The opportunity will be open through Je-S from 16 August 2021 and will close on 23 September 2021.

When applying select:

  • council: AHRC
  • document type: standard proposal
  • scheme: development grants
  • call/type/mode: Mobilising Cultural and Natural Assets to combat Health Inequalities 23 September 2021.

The Je-S application form must be submitted by 23 September 2021 16:00 (UK time). It will not be possible to submit to the opportunity after this time.

The following is a list of attachments to upload for this opportunity:

  • case for support: no more than seven pages of A4
  • CVs for named researchers: no more than two sides of A4 each
  • publication lists: no more than one side of A4 each
  • visual evidence (optional)
  • data management plan: no more than two pages of A4
  • justification of resources: no more than two pages of A4
  • work plan (optional)
  • international Co-I Head of department statement (only if an international Co-I is named in the application)
  • project partner letter of support for each project partner named: no more than two sides of A4 each.

Please see section 4 of the AHRC funding guide for further information about these attachments.

How we will assess your application

Proposals will be considered by a cross-disciplinary expert assessment panel drawing on members of the AHRC Peer Review College, MRC and NERC experts and other specialists as appropriate.

There will not be a separate stage of individual peer review for each application prior to consideration by the panel. Therefore, applicant teams will not receive feedback on their applications in the form of individual peer reviewers’ comments.

The assessment panel will agree on grades for each proposal, agree a ranked priority list of applications and make funding recommendations to AHRC based on section 5 of AHRC’s Research Funding Guide.

Contact details

For enquiries please contact:

Dawn Greenberg

Senior Investment Manager, AHRC


Additional info

Background information

In the decade since the publication of ‘Fair Society, Healthy Lives: The Marmot Review’ there has been increased recognition of the links between economic, social and health inequalities. Also, of the uneven distribution of health outcomes within and between UK communities and of the resources (such as museums, libraries and quality green space) needed to level them up.

Read Health Equity in England: The Marmot Review 10 Years On (Institute of Health)

Addressing these challenges is all the more urgent in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, where people experiencing the worst inequalities have been most at risk. Conventional health and social care services cannot remedy these challenges alone.

Health inequalities are most pronounced in places where people are disconnected from their local communities, or living in communities with depleted or degraded assets. For example, limited or unsafe local green space, no library or community centre. According to the 2016 Academy of Medical Sciences report ‘Improving the Health of the Public by 2040’ there are still many unknowns around the complex interlinked factors that influence the prevention and solution of population health challenges.

Likewise, the World Health Organization has recognised the potential of urban green spaces for preventing chronic conditions, and the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity acknowledges a link between biodiversity and poverty alleviation.

Read Strategic plan for biodiversity (Convention on Biological Diversity)

Marmot 2020 points to a lack of green infrastructure increasing the risk of cancer, childhood and adult asthma, heart disease and dementia. Research shows that proximity to high-quality green and blue space can help to mitigate the chronic stress underlying many long-term conditions.

Read An ecological study investigating the association between access to urban green space and mental health (PubMed)

Public Health England’s 2020 review on Improving access to greenspace found that:

  • greener neighbourhoods benefit everyone, but appear to disproportionately benefit disadvantaged groups
  • socio-economic-related inequalities in health are lower in areas with greater access to greenspace.

Read Improving access to greenspace: 2020 review (GOV.UK)

The Environment Agency’s 2020 report highlights that the COVID pandemic has exposed and amplified green inequality in society, and draws on research showing a disproportionately positive impact of nature on deprived communities.

Read State of the environment: health, people and the environment (GOV.UK)

There is also increasing recognition of the synergies between arts and nature-based interventions, particularly those focused on creative engagement.

Read Art, nature and mental health: assessing the biopsychosocial effects of a ‘creative green prescription’ museum programme involving horticulture, artmaking and collections (SAGE Journals)

Programme background

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted stark health inequalities in the UK. There is evidence that access to local cultural assets and activities (including libraries and museums) and high-quality natural environments (including green and blue spaces) can improve health and thereby level up health outcomes.

So, place-based approaches to public health, both prevention and intervention (including but not restricted to social prescribing) offer new avenues to tackling health inequality.

But the evidence base for these approaches is currently insufficient to underwrite a full-scale national mobilisation of cultural and environmental assets in the service of levelling up health outcomes. We thus need a more precise understanding of:

  • how health inequalities are developed and sustained
  • how access to cultural, environmental and other community assets improve health outcomes
  • the kinds of local partnerships and mechanisms needed to mobilize these assets in order to do so.

AHRC, in partnership with MRC and NERC, will address these needs initially through a 12-month funded programme, comprising a number of individual research and network-building projects, across 2021 and 2022.

It is hoped that this programme will be scaled up in future years, with contributions from further research councils within UKRI, although this is subject to future UKRI funding outcomes.

AHRC and MRC Programme Fellow for ‘Mobilising Cultural and Natural Assets to Combat Health Inequalities’

Successful projects will work with the AHRC and MRC Programme Fellow for ‘Mobilising Cultural and Natural Assets to Combat Health Inequalities’, who will be hosted at the National Centre for Creative Health (NCCH).

Find out more about the role of the ‘Mobilising Cultural and Natural Assets to Combat Health Inequalities’ Programme Fellow.

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