Celebrating eight years of community wealth building in Preston
Much has been said about the so-called “Preston model” – a new economic approach developed by the City Council, against the grain of much conventional thinking on economic development. In eight years, Preston has shown that a different model is possible. The deep, practice-focused work now stands as proof that community wealth building can drive real change.
That is why we’re proud to today be releasing How we built community wealth in Preston; achievements and lessons. This publication, jointly produced by CLES and Preston City Council, is the definitive telling of the story and the theory behind the ‘Preston model’, written by two organisations who have led on this work from the very beginning.
As we launch this publication, it is worth taking stock and considering the enormity of what has been achieved. For a generation, Britain’s local economies have been besieged by the same old tired approach to economic development, the ravages of market liberalism and extractive capitalism, and the unfairness of austerity and public sector cuts.
“It can no longer be dismissed as utopian theory: it is real, it works, and it is here to stay.”
By opting to actively intervene in the local economy, rather than simply ‘managing’ it, Preston has done something genuinely remarkable – for two reasons. Firstly, because this has worked: as we outline in the report, the “Preston model” has delivered genuine outcomes for local residents, leading to Preston being named the ‘Most Improved City in the United Kingdom’ in the Good Growth for Cities guide 2018. Whether it be the £112.3m retained in the local economy through progressive procurement activities, or the 4000 extra employees in Preston now receiving the Real Living Wage (2018 ONS initial outrun), community wealth building is securing tangible outcomes for real people. It can no longer be dismissed as utopian theory: it is real, it works, and it is here to stay.
This leads to the second remarkable feature of this work: that it has inspired a movement for change across the UK. Community wealth building is now spreading across the UK, with a range of places deepening the practice by developing their own approaches. Many of these have blended lessons from Preston with their own bespoke approach – for example, utilising land and assets in Wirral, or tackling the gentrification juggernaut in Islington.
“This work was never ‘inevitable’ or ‘expected’; it was the product of bravery, tenacity, and a lot of hard work by many people and organisations to solve seemingly intractable social, economic, and environmental issues.”
Looking back from 2019, we have the vantage point of realising that what has happened in Preston can and should be dubbed “common sense economics” because that is exactly what it is. Yet it is worth remembering that the decision to launch this scheme of work in 2011 was a brave and courageous one: few at the time had heard of community wealth building, and fewer still were willing to use local power to confront market liberalism, wealth extractivism and fossil capitalism. There was no knowing in 2011 that Preston would be the first in what is now a tidal wave of progressive municipal innovation across all four countries of the UK, nor indeed that this work would be known as the ‘rock star’ of local economics. This work was never ‘inevitable’ or ‘expected’; it was the product of bravery, tenacity, and a lot of hard work by many people and organisations to solve seemingly intractable social, economic, and environmental issues.
This restlessness must motivate us going forward. What has happened in Preston is only the start of a wider process of transformation in how we develop our local economies. In our publication, we outline how to deepen this progressive activity in Preston, ranging from nurturing strong anchor institution relationships, to cultivating a plurality of local providers. Community wealth building is a growing and hungry movement, but we cannot rest until it becomes the ‘new normal’, providing social justice and good economies for all in every place, everywhere. The goal must be for every locality to find their own ‘model’ based on bespoke local factors, using Preston as an inspiration rather than something to copy and paste. We have no doubt that Preston will always remain an inspiration for this movement as it continues to grow and reshape our economy.