Community wealth building: a history


Today, CLES releases Community wealth building: a history, a transcript of our recent podcast, and the first publication under the banner of the recently-refreshed Community Wealth Building Centre of Excellence (CfX). Here, Tom Lloyd Goodwin explains why we felt that now was the time to delve deeper into the provenance of the approach.

Community wealth building reorganises local economies to ensure they are best placed to tackle the inequalities and disadvantages that are now, more than ever, so acutely felt by people across the UK. Over the course of the last decade, the movement has advanced from being a marginal sport. It has blossomed into a widely-adopted corrective to an economic model that has left too many people worse off, enriched the already wealthy few and propelled us further down the road to ecological disaster.

“this wider historical context contains a series of important lessons”

To celebrate this ever-flourishing movement, CLES recently released a podcast, looking at the provenance of the approach and, in this, we felt there was an important story to tell. A lot of people have heard about the “Preston model” but few are clear about its history, and how that relates to the movement we see now. Yet this wider historical context contains a series of important lessons.

The transcript released by CLES today is our attempt to document these lessons. In part, for posterity but also to provide a shareable resource to help fellow travellers in the movement deepen their understanding of community wealth building, and to inspire the uninitiated to take their first steps. It joins the extensive library of resources already available through the Community Wealth Building Centre of Excellence, which takes in practice guides, case studies and policy provocations.

“the transcript traces the origins of the approach through the ‘thinking and doing’ work of CLES over the last 13 years”

After providing a brief introduction to the concept of community wealth building, the transcript traces the origins of the approach through the “thinking and doing” work of CLES over the last 13 years. It begins with an account from Mathew Jackson, CLES’s Deputy Chief Executive until 2018, who explains our early progressive procurement work with Manchester City Council, which started in 2008.
It then gets into how CLES’s understanding and articulation of community wealth building began to crystalise after we took our experiences from Manchester and married them with some learning from our friends at the US-based think-tank The Democracy Collaborative and the work they had done in Cleveland, Ohio.

As we explain, this led to our formulation of the five fundamental building blocks of community wealth building, what we call its “pillars”: plural ownership of the economy; progressive procurement; fair employment and just labour markets; making financial power work for local places; and socially productive use of land and property. We then document how, armed with these principles, CLES came to work alongside Preston City Council on the celebrated Preston model.

Finally, we bring the story up to date, documenting interviews with two of the places who CLES have supported to adopt a community wealth building approach in recent years – the London borough of Newham and the Scottish county of Clackmannanshire.

“there is no one size fits all approach to community wealth building”

As all of the examples found in the transcript demonstrate, a political economy narrative and moral framing remain the consistent underpinning of community wealth building. What does not remain consistent, however, is the context-dependent calibration of the five pillars listed above: there is no one size fits all approach to community wealth building. CLES has a wide range of case studies, policy provocations and practice guides that should help all areas of the UK start to make sense of community wealth building principles in their particular context. It is the totality of this work – the recalibration around a progressive heart – that has made spearheading the approach in the UK over the last decade so exciting and inspiring for us here at CLES. We hope the transcript leaves you similarly excited and inspired.