Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Mobilising community assets to tackle health inequalities

This programme will take an interdisciplinary approach to funding research that aims to use local, cultural, and natural assets and activities to support improvements in health inequalities in the UK.

It is supported by a partnership with the National Centre for Creative Health (NCCH) and will fund projects in three phases.

£26 million
This is a single programme with three phases of funding opportunities, running from 2021 to 2027
Partners involved:
Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Medical Research Council (MRC) National Centre for Creative Health (NCCH)

The scope and what we're doing

AHRC is funding a programme called ‘Mobilising community assets to tackle health inequalities’, supported by:

  • ESRC
  • NERC
  • MRC

The programme will take an interdisciplinary approach to funding research that aims to improve health inequalities in the UK, and is supported by a partnership with the National Centre for Creative Health (NCCH).

The UK has many community assets that have the potential to have positive impacts on health and wellbeing in their local community, such as:

  • museums
  • community organisations
  • parks
  • waterways

This programme will support projects that link and integrate such assets into healthcare systems with the aim of reducing health inequalities. The programme will take an interdisciplinary approach, and aims to bring together teams of expertise from remits across UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), building collaboration with non-academic partners such as:

  • health and social care
  • charities
  • lived experience researchers
  • policymakers
  • local authorities
  • community groups

The programme is guided by AHRC’s Programme Director for Health Inequalities, Professor Helen Chatterjee. Researchers funded through this programme are expected to work cooperatively both with each other and Professor Chatterjee to increase the reach and impact of the work being funded through this programme.

The programme is formed of three phases, each of which has a funding opportunity with distinct aims.

Phase one

Projects began in January 2022. This phase funded 12 pilot projects up to £180,000 for 12 months. These projects focus on how to scale up small, local approaches for addressing health inequalities.

Phase two

Projects began in November 2022. In this phase, 16 consortia-building projects running for nine months were funded up to £250,000 each. These projects will facilitate cross-partner collaboration, incorporating relevant non-academic partners, including community groups and health system organisations.

Phase three

Projects began in February 2024. This is a £20 million funding opportunity that AHRC co-developed with colleagues across UKRI, the NCCH and other relevant stakeholders. Phase 3 funded 12 projects across the UK that will run for 36 months and will be funded up to £2.5 million each.

This phase will provide large-scale funding for the community, mobilising the functional consortia and community hubs established in phase two and operationalising the evidence from small-scale projects in phase one.

Why we're doing it

In the past decade, there has been increased recognition of the links between economic, social and health disparities, and of the uneven distribution of health outcomes within and between UK communities.

Cultural, natural and community assets are known to improve health outcomes, but such resources are also unevenly distributed. Such assets include:

  • artists and arts organisations
  • libraries
  • museums
  • heritage sites
  • green and blue spaces such as parks, the coastline and waterways
  • gyms and other sports and exercise-related assets
  • legal or debt advice services

Read more about these ideas:

Addressing these disparities is more urgent in the wake of COVID-19, where people experiencing the worst disparities have been most at risk.

Read the Build back fairer: the COVID-19 Marmot review (Institute of Health Equity).

The implementation of integrated health services (through integrated care systems, and equivalents in the devolved nations) provides both a challenge and an opportunity. New legislation recognises the potential benefits of better integration between NHS, local councils and other important strategic partners such as the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector.

However, operationalising such integration in order to make community assets more readily commissionable is challenging due to the complexity and diversity of the communities ecosystem. Community assets tend to operate at a hyper-local level, servicing small numbers of vulnerable communities, and are often financed by small-scale, short-term funding. Hence further research is required to understand how and in what ways community assets can be mobilised to address health disparities at a larger scale.

Who to contact

Ask a question about this area of investment

Health, environment and urban humanities team


Last updated: 18 March 2024

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