Five practical ways to kick start your community wealth building journey


Over the last week – in the build up to today’s Community Wealth Building Summit – my colleagues Lauren Bond, Charlie Murphy and I have been running a series of webinars, taking delegates through the fundamentals of a community wealth building approach.

It’s testament to the journey we have been on since the last “in person” Summit, held in the summer of 2019, that this “getting people up to speed” is now an adjunct to the main programme, as opposed to making up much of the bulk of it, as it did three years ago. In 2022, so many places are getting on with the business of building community wealth that they are looking to the Summit as a chance to get even deeper in their conversations, to go further in their journeys.

That said, there are many who feel in need of a refresher on the principles and plenty of others who are only just discovering the potential of community wealth building, particularly in an era of crisis. One of the most common requests we have encountered this week (and, indeed, whenever I deliver CLES’s “off the shelf” or more bespoke workshops for organisations of all shapes and sizes) is for practical approaches to get started and examples of where they have been applied elsewhere.

“an inclusive economy for which delivers good lives for people”

So, as the doors open on the fifth Community Wealth Building Summit, now seems like a good time to distil our thoughts on the immediate, practical actions that anyone can do to help get wealth moving around their local economy.  You may already be doing some of this work in your organisation or you may be just beginning to consider what you can do to support an inclusive economy in your place. It doesn’t matter where you are on the journey, the destination is the same: an inclusive economy for which delivers good lives for people.

The moment we’re in – the cost of living crisis, rising rates of poverty and stalling life expectancies –  make achieving that goal more important than ever before. And the great thing about community wealth building is that you don’t need to wait – you can start today.

1. Map your money

Community wealth building is all about understanding where money goes, particularly who benefits from the wealth in our places. One of the most common ways that organisations get started with community wealth building is to map their own spend to understand:

  • how much is being spent?
  • where is it spent?
  • who is it spent with?

Any organisation – public, private or social – can do this.  Understanding where your money goes gives you the opportunity to influence its future trajectory and to make sure that people in your place really benefit. There are countless ways to make that spend work harder – from targeting it towards local SMEs and co-ops to strengthening the requirement for social value outcomes across all of your procurement and commissioning activity to support local skills, secure jobs, businesses and net zero.

Take it to the next level

2. Find your friends

You may not think that your organisation and others like it have the power to positively influence your local economy, but the truth is, you do! Regardless of whether you are part of a public, private or social organisation, you all play both a direct and indirect role in your local economy – through recruitment, spend or how you leverage existing assets in your place.

Now, more than ever, we need to start talking about the economic role that organisations of all shapes and sizes play, and what we can all do to maximise that power for the benefit of communities.

The key here is to find the wilful individuals in your organisation, in your community and in other organisations in your place. CLES will always be glad to do whatever we can to help and our website is jam-packed full of case studies and resources to help you get started.

Take it to the next level

  • Like Dublin City Council or Greenwich, you could set up a community wealth building working group within your organisation to explore ways to help mobilise your economic power.
  • As anchor organisations in Wigan have done, you could get together to form an anchor partnership and use it to start harnessing your combined economic power to tackle long standing challenges such as health and social care recruitment or food poverty.

3. Level up your assets

Work out what levers you’ve got to pull in your place. This could be anything from your procurement spend, the good relationships you have with anchor institutions, your land and assets, hefty local pension schemes or chunks of cash from government. Once you’ve figured out what they are, start thinking about how you can use them to further your community wealth building objectives.

Many places are currently in the process of applying for and implementing levelling up-funded projects, pitching for funding through the UK shared prosperity fund or have growth or city region deals in place. You can make this money work harder by popping your community wealth building lenses on and asking a few simple questions as you develop your plans:

  • How will your project stimulate and diversify local supply chains?
  • How will you actively target job opportunities to the people in your area that need them most?
  • What are the opportunities to use your levelling up or other funded projects to help reskill and re-train local people?
  • How much of the project value will be retained in your local economy and how can you increase this figure?

 Take it to the next level

  • Read more about how to do this in CLES’s guide to levelling up.
  • Like Birmingham City Council, North Ayrshire and Preston – find a willing partner with which to build support for the development of an anchor partnership to help you drive change at scale.
  • Learn more about how Islington Council are using money raised through section 106 agreements to purchase long term leases on properties and then using this to support local enterprise at a peppercorn rate. This includes targeted support for start-ups, including those specifically targeted at black and minority ethnic business owners and residents.

4. Review your recruitment

In the midst of the ever-worsening cost of living crisis, the most direct way that many organisations like councils, hospitals, universities and colleges can support people in their places is through their role as employers.

Now is the time to get your teams around the table and explore what you can do to make the most of this powerful economic lever to support people. For example, by taking your recruitment opportunities to communities, rather than expecting them to come to you, by applying values-based recruitment practices to entry level roles or by offering the Real Living Wage and permanent contracts with guaranteed hours.

Take it to the next level

  • Like the I Can project in Birmingham, be bold! Take job opportunities into local communities and talk to people about how they can get involved. Offer them support and training to build their confidence so they can take up opportunities coming down the line in your organisation and others.

5. Imagine a greener, fairer future

The rapid growth of businesses and jobs in the green economy is not only inevitable, it is essential for planetary survival. We can start building the transition to a better future by using community wealth building approaches to build greener fairer, local economies, longer term.

Whether you’re investing in flood defence, insulating social housing stock, developing renewable energy supply chains or creating a new green space for communities, community wealth building provides a framework to help you create good green jobs, develop skills and create demand for new businesses and ensure that the investment you are making in the future of your place works hard for the local economy now.

Take it to the next level

  • Take a look at our community wealth building toolkit for a just transition for tonnes of inspiration and practical advice on where to get started.
  • Be inspired by the work being done in Lewes to create a centre for excellence in retrofit through collaborative working on procurement, skills and business support.
  • Like Oldham, work with your local communities to unlock place-based solutions to the energy crisis.