Community Wealth Building in Lewes

(2019 – ongoing)

Lewes District Council have put community wealth building and the climate crisis at the heart of its Corporate Plan. Their work thus far has focused on mobilising Council assets to shape and grow green sectors while creating economic opportunities for the people of Lewes.

Context

  • With a population of around 100,000, the district of Lewes is a site of both prosperity (in the county town of Lewes and much of the countryside) and considerable deprivation (in the coastal towns of Newhaven, Peacehaven and Seaford, as well as in some rural areas).
  • The Council have focussed on how they can use their advantages to build and strengthen the local economy through business growth and local job creation. ​
  • With flooding and coastal erosion a continual threat, the climate crisis is an all all-too present reality in Lewes and has provided a focus for this work.

Community wealth building in Lewes

Mobilising local assets to address the climate crisis and create opportunity

Lewes District Council put the twin goals of community wealth building and sustainable transition from fossil fuels at the heart of its Corporate Plan in 2019. The Covid-19 pandemic gave a renewed impetus to this work, with the Council collaborating with CLES and local partners to seize the moment to build back a socially and environmentally sustainable local economy. These plans are heavily focused on mobilising council assets – including land, property and council housing investment – to shape and grow businesses and organisations which will create economic opportunities for the people of Lewes.

Central to this has been the realisation that supply chain co-ordination offers a means to bring opportunities for good “green jobs” to those most likely to be excluded from decent work. One of the most developed strands of activity so far has been a distinctive approach to building new council homes. An important aspect of this work has been a successful partnership with Boutique Modern, a small young and promising modular housing construction company, based in Newhaven.

Boutique Modern has collaborated with the local jobcentre plus and college group to provide secure, full time, decent employment to individuals who have previously struggled to find it. Lewes DC has recently contracted with Boutique Modern for two successful council home building projects and has plans to build a further 200 homes with a range of providers.

Decarbonising council housing and reshaping the market for retrofit

Another emerging area of work is around the decarbonisation of existing housing stock. Here, Lewes is entering into a collaboration with seven other local authorities across East Sussex and the greater Brighton area.

Taken together, these local authorities own 3,500 council homes and have capital programmes worth over £100m per year. This creates a considerable opportunity to operate at scale. Given current commitments to transition away from gas by 2025 and to reduce carbon footprint by 2030, there is a major opportunity to reshape the supply market for retrofitting. The grand prize is to do this in a way that builds local capacity and creates skilled, good quality jobs – rather than extracting wealth from the area.