Community Wealth Building through Anchor Institutions

Places across the UK are striving to find new ways of attracting wealth, enhancing economic growth and addressing poverty. For the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES), the attraction of wealth through inward investment is important; but of equal importance is understanding and harnessing existing wealth for the benefit of local economies and communities.

Anchor Institutions are central to the concept of community wealth building as a result of the scale of the jobs they provide, the scale of spend through procurement, their land and assets, and the fact that they are unlikely to leave that place. CLES are the pioneers of and are at the forefront of policy and practice around anchor institutions in the UK and Europe – this includes work in Belfast, Preston, Birmingham and ten cities across Europe.

On February 1st, we launched a new publication which reflects on work undertaken collaboratively in just one locality (Preston over the last three and a half years) and particularly details: what we have done; what we have achieved; what still needs to be done; and what other places can learn.

Work in Preston around anchor institutions commenced in August 2013, with a desire to respond to the economic and social challenges facing Preston through a progressive anchor institution driven approach. In this, we were wanting to understand, develop and harness the potential of anchor institutions to deliver greater benefits for the local economy and people. The work has led to a number of achievements:

  • It has positioned Preston as a progressive place for local economic development and addressing poverty;
  • It has cooperatively drawn together anchor institutions at a very senior level;
  • It has evidenced where procurement spend goes, its wider impact through the supply chain, and the role of wider business;
  • It has a developed a shared statement of intent;
  • It has identified gaps, areas of influenceable spend, and Preston based businesses which can potentially fill them;
  • It has changed behaviour in each of the institutions we have worked with;
  • It has encouraged the anchor institutions to engage on a longer term basis.

As well as achievements, the work in Preston has also taught us a number of lessons of what to do and what not to do when it comes to anchor institution activities. The key lessons are as follows:

  • It has to be about action and doing – it cannot be academic;
  • It has to be driven from the top of each institution – not middle management;
  • This is a long-term process – there are no quick wins, this is long term change;
  • It has to be based around real evidence and baselining – understanding existing impact is key;
  • It has to involve a range of activities – it cannot be just about procurement;
  • There needs to be continuous monitoring of impact and behaviour change.

These lessons are shaping our ongoing work in Preston and Birmingham and across Europe. CLES’ work is intrinsically linked to the emerging policy agenda around inclusive growth. Indeed, inclusion is at the heart of everything we do around anchor institutions. It needs the inclusion of the institutions themselves, of business and the social sector, and of the residents of a place. Indeed inclusion is not just about jobs leading to growth; it is about a wider array of factors. Only once these stakeholders are included and cooperative can we start to think about inclusive growth.

Matthew Jackson is Deputy Chief Executive of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES).

To download the publication please click here, or contact Matthew Jackson at

Read an interview with Matthew Brown, Councillor at Preston City Council: ‘Poverty was entrenched in Preston. So we became more self-sufficient’ which discusses the work further.