Reflections on the Community Wealth Building Summit

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Last week CLES hosted the second annual Community Wealth Building Summit, the only event like it in the UK and the largest event in CLES’ history.

The 200-strong delegate list read like a roll call of the locations and sectors where community wealth building is happening – with many of those organisations and localities working in partnership with CLES. From Newham to North Ayrshire and Leeds to Lewisham, we are working with universities, health institutions, community businesses, local councils, the private sector and many many more.

“The response at the summit and online reflected not only how many people are deeply invested in this work, but also showcased the breadth and depth of this movement.”

Throughout the day, we invited speakers, attendees, and those at home to tell us what community wealth building means to them, using the hashtag #cwbis. The response at the summit and online reflected not only how many people are deeply invested in this work, but also showcased the breadth and depth of this movement.

Back in the office at the start of a new week, the CLES team is fired with an enthusiasm that only comes with successfully bringing 200 dedicated activists and changemakers together. As we push on to drive further actions and outcomes, the team has taken some time to offer three quick-fire reflections of our own from the day about what #cwbis to us…

  1. #cwbis… a movement.

For all the brilliant talks and ideas of the day, it is safe to say that the pies on offer at lunchtime were one of the most talked-about features of the Summit. This is not only because they were delicious; it is also due to the fact that they were produced by Homebaked, a social enterprise who employ nineteen local residents in good quality jobs, contributing £160k per year to their local economy through salary, and a further £100k through purchasing.

This matters because it cuts to the very heart of what community wealth building must be about; not simply a project imposed by politicians from Westminster or City Hall, but a living, breathing social movement. The politicians and think tank experts are important, but we must never forget that this project of economic transformation takes place in proximity to ordinary people – where they live, work and gather.

“Real social change is not something we ‘do’ to our communities, but is something which only occurs when these communities have the agency to take back power, control, and wealth for themselves.”

Going forward, community wealth building needs to be more imbued with this restless movement energy of democracy, collaboration, and coproduction. This was captured nicely by our keynote speaker, Oriol Estela Barnet of PEMB Barcelona, who reminded the audience that real social change is not something we ‘do’ to our communities, but is something which only occurs when these communities have the agency to take back power, control, and wealth for themselves.

This also means diversifying our movement by making sure that we don’t have the same old (usually white, usually male) faces on our panels and at our events. This includes our language, which can at times feel too academic and abstract. As Guppi Bola says in this excellent thread, the progressive policy world has not yet done enough to decolonise itself, and create the inclusive, transformative movement necessary to precipitate genuine social change. We hope that yesterday’s summit offered a starting point for CLES’ own role in this broader movement, and we recognise that there is much more to do in making this movement more like, well…a movement.

  1. #cwbis…radical and intentional.

We demonstrated throughout the day that community wealth building operates across a wide variety of different sectors and localities. However, there are core economic principles which unite this movement. Put simply, community wealth building is not just community economic development with bells on. It is not extending the devolution agenda for the sake of more devolution. The Community Wealth Building Centre of Excellence was launched to help practitioners deepen their understanding of these principles – you can learn more about them here.

Community wealth building is about a radical and deeply intentional reorganisation of the local economy in order to end the misery imposed by market liberalism, and achieve social, economic, and environmental justice for all. It is about constructing a social movement in order to disrupt the status quo in a whole host of ways, ranging from how we organise the land we live on, to how we bring economic democracy back into our workplaces and homes.

  1. #cwbis… here to stay.

Finally, it is clear that CWB is a movement that is truly here to stay, and here to help achieve social, economic, and environmental justice for our communities. This is a movement that is rapidly spreading across all four nations of the United Kingdom – as demonstrated by Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotherham’s announcement at the Summit that we are working with LCR, helping them to connect local industrial strategy with the principles of community wealth building.

It was fitting, then, that the Summit also saw the launch of the Community Wealth Building Centre of Excellence.

“The work that we are doing across the UK and beyond needs to be amplified and scaled up.”

CLES’ vision is for community wealth building to become the guiding principle of local economic development – for that to happen the work that we are doing across the UK and beyond needs to be amplified and scaled up and we need to collectively work with you, our partners, in learning more about how best to overcome the challenges we face. The Centre of Excellence will support practitioners, by providing resources, direct support, tools and methods. It will shape policy at a national and local level, in order to create space for community wealth building to flourish. Most importantly, it will build networks – between the thinkers and doers, the people and organisations in places and across sectors, just as we did last week in Liverpool.


We are aware that there is much to do. The work we do is both urgent and necessary- and we are all grateful to every single person who is joining us on this journey. At CLES we know that the economy is merely a social construct, and that as a society we collectively hold in our hands the power to restructure it.

A week after the largest summit in CLES’ history, the work continues…