My professorship has been awarded on account of an outstanding contribution to Research and Innovation (R&I) and a significant contribution to External and Professional Engagement (E&PE) through my roles with the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research (CRESR) and Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre (AWRC). I am considered an international expert on the topic of social prescribing, a current global health policy agenda which seeks to actively involve local voluntary and community organisations (VCOs) in the support for people with physical and mental health conditions. I was the lead author for a REF 2021 Impact Case Study, which detailed how Sheffield Hallam’s social prescribing research had a direct impact on the NHS policy and investment in the 2019 Long-Term Plan.
My social prescribing research forms part of a wider research portfolio that focusses on the role, contribution and value of local VCOs whose work promotes positive health and wellbeing. In my years at Sheffield Hallam, I have been involved in numerous studies that bridge voluntary sector studies, public policy and health and social care. Although these studies have been commissioned by a variety of funders, and with numerous foci, they have always been underpinned by the following core research questions:
- How do VCOs support the health and wellbeing of people experiencing social and economic exclusion and inequality?
- What is the value and impact of this work for those people and the communities in which they live?
- How does this work contribute to local and national policy goals, and to what extent does policy enable or inhibit?
In addressing these questions, I have contributed to a theoretical and public policy discourse about the future of how we care for ourselves and each other in society in light of increasing social, economic and health inequalities.
What does it mean personally to you to be a professor at Sheffield Hallam? What do you value about it?
I hope that the professorship will open up new opportunities to get involved with new high profile research collaborations but perhaps more importantly, enable me to provide more support and opportunities for Early Career Researchers who are the cornerstone of much of the high-quality research that takes place across the University.
Tell us a bit about your career story so far.
After graduating from my first degree in Politics at the University of Leicester, between 2001-2008 I worked in policy and research roles in the voluntary and public sectors. Through these roles, and my personal involvement with local VCOs, I became acutely aware of the important link between their work promoting health and wellbeing and the priorities of the public sector locally and nationally. I joined Sheffield Hallam in 2008 to focus on research on this topic and since then have been involved in numerous studies that bridge voluntary sector studies and health and social care.
After joining Hallam as a Research Associate, I progressed through various roles and grades (Research Fellow, Senior and Principal Research Fellow) before being appointed as a Reader and then Associate Professor in 2020. I’ve also held numerous internal and external roles over the years linked to my longstanding involvement in inter-disciplinary collaboration. Within the University, I led the Centre for Voluntary Sector Research between 2015-19 and more recently, in 2020, I was seconded to AWRC when it launched to lead the ‘Healthy and Active 100’ research theme.
Beyond the University, I was a Steering Group member of the Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN) between 2015-21 and Policy and Practice Editor for the journal Voluntary Sector Review between 2017-21. I’m also a founding member of the of the National Academy for Social Prescribing Academic Collaborative, a group of researchers from around the world with the shared goal of improving the evidence base about social prescribing and community-based approaches to health and wellbeing.
If you could go back in time and give yourself some career advice, what would it be?
Effective collaboration holds the key to successful research. Collaborate internally (within the University), collaborate externally (beyond the University), collaborate across disciplines, and collaborate extensively with policy and practice. Developing collaborative relationships is a core aspect of our role as academic researchers so don’t feel bad about creating time and space to build networks and connections if they have the potential to further your research goals.
What’s next? Tell us about how you want to further develop your contribution.
Over the next few years I plan to focus on developing some large transdisciplinary and possibly international projects with UKRI and similar funders to further develop my research around the VCS, health and welling. I’m particularly interested in developing more research that explores the engagement and involvement of community assets in health systems to address health inequalities and linking this to some broader theoretical work about the relationship between the voluntary sector and the state that I have been developing with colleagues over the past few years.