Community Wealth Building: from the UK to Australia


There are over ten thousand miles between Preston, Lancashire and Bendigo, Australia – and at times like this we can really feel the distance. With our communities stuck indoors, it is all too easy to forget the interconnectedness that binds people and places.

That is why it is timely to today celebrate a new relationship in the community wealth building family, in the form of a new international collaboration between CLES and SGS Economics and Planning, a leading Australian think and do tank. In 2019 SGS Principal Patrick Fensham undertook a three-week knowledge development sabbatical with CLES, and today, launches his paper Community Wealth Building in Australia: A New Focus for Economic Development.

During Patrick’s sabbatical, I had the pleasure of touring the country with him, visiting CLES’ community wealth building hot spots in Preston, Manchester, Gateshead, and the London Borough of Lewisham. On our train journeys across the country, Patrick and I would talk about the many shared challenges facing local economic development in both of our countries, and the lessons we could both learn from one another. We felt this on trains passing Manchester’s high-rise construction projects, which brought to mind the challenges of agglomeration economies facing mega cities such as London, Manchester, Sydney and Melbourne. We also felt this when visiting Preston, which brought to mind the fate of Australia’s de-industrialising peripheral cities such as Bendigo, which is 150 miles north west of Melbourne.

“community wealth building represents practical action in favour of fairer economic outcomes”

Patrick’s paper summarises the origins of community wealth building and the key pillars as defined by CLES. It identifies how community wealth building “fits” given models and theories of regional development, with particular reference to anticipated critiques of the concept from neo-liberal economic perspectives. It further highlights how community wealth building represents practical action in favour of fairer economic outcomes, where the alternative accepts continued uneven development and socially and politically destructive disadvantage.

The paper proposes a community wealth building agenda for Australia based on the five pillars, plus complementary ideas or initiatives including:

  • guaranteeing minimum standards for community infrastructure and services in recognition of the essential role of functioning communities in successful economic development;
  • increased devolution of policy making powers and responsibilities to local communities;
  • vesting ownership of land development rights with the community as a source of value to fund investment in beneficial community infrastructure.

CLES welcomes this opportunity to develop the community wealth building agenda with new friends across the globe. Community wealth building has always been an international movement, and in the last year alone CLES colleagues have visited Sweden, the Netherlands, Poland, Canada, and Italy as well as welcoming delegations from the United States, France, China, and New Zealand. Those working for local economic change across the world have much to learn from each other, and it brings to mind the old slogan that “all politics is local, all politics is global.” This is the case now more than ever, as economies of all shapes and sizes chart a course away out of the COVID-19 crisis.

From Preston to Bendigo, London to Melbourne, we welcome this new opportunity to learn, share, and take inspirations from new friends in new places.