On 18 November 2022, CLES held its Community Wealth Building Summit in Birmingham. This event brought together the city council and local government employees, associates from anchor institutions, charities, and community organisations, and people from across the UK interested in how community wealth building can be used as a tool for inclusive growth and a progressive economy.
What is community wealth building?
The Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) defines community wealth building as “An approach to economic development that changes the way that our economies function, retaining more wealth and opportunity for the benefit of local people”.1 It is a progressive approach to economic development which challenges the current economic model that benefits a select few, mostly distant shareholders. It harnesses the power of locally rooted institutions, known as anchor institutions, to create conditions for fair employment and just labour markets, and the progressive procurement of goods and services. It also aims at the plural ownership of the economy, making financial power work for local places, and the socially productive use of land and property.
In the current economic climate, with the impact of the pandemic and the cost of living crisis, a different approach is needed for widespread change in response to challenges around poverty, inequality and the climate emergency. Traditional approaches to economic development are not delivering the benefits their places need while economic growth in the UK has been uneven. CLES has argued that “the whole system needs a progressive reboot”.2 Speakers at the Summit explored some of the ways in which community wealth building is working in different areas through Anchor institution networks, the retrofit of existing spaces, and people working at the grassroots for local change.
Anchor institution networks
Counsellor Ian Ward, leader of Birmingham City Council explained the ways in which Birmingham was implementing the principles of community wealth building to encourage local growth. The approach is to put communities at the heart and work from the grassroots to extend the benefits of growth to all communities. One of the ways in which Birmingham City Council has been doing this is through local procurement in partnership with a number of anchor institutions. The Birmingham Anchor Network, like the London Anchor Institutions Network, has brought together local universities, councils, the NHS and public services, and other locally rooted institutions to encourage progressive procurement practices. Through this initiative they have been able to recruit unemployed residents, offer skills training, secure contracts for locally based SMEs and social enterprises, and deliver strategic initiatives including Levelling Up, Living Wage and Social Economy Growth strategies.
Retrofit in community wealth building aims at economic and social development alongside its benefits to the environment. One way in which community wealth builders have been addressing the climate emergency is through the retrofit of housing and infrastructure. Keynote speaker, Immy Kaur, Co-founder and Director of Civic Square, highlighted the benefits of retrofit in housing and community spaces, as well as environmental changes. She argued that many areas already have existing spaces, they just need investment and regeneration. In housing this could include decarbonisation for sustainability and environmental benefits, while disused buildings can be repurposed as community spaces. At the same time, housing is also a public health issue and so retrofit of existing spaces becomes pressing in the contexts of poverty and health inequalities.
In exploring the ways in which people are working on the ground to help them survive the cost of living crisis, a number of practitioners conveyed the ways in which their own organisations and enterprises are implementing the principles of community wealth building and how this can look different in practice. These organisations and community groups are focused on person-centred change through direct engagement with local communities and addressing inequalities in health, poverty and housing. Among them, East Marsh United, is a community group that has brought local people together to clean up their local area, identify the issues that affect them and encourage them to come up with solutions on how to address them. Among their projects, they are providing homes for the local community with the aim of acquiring 100 houses for 100 years, that will stay within the community over successive generations.
What the summit has ultimately highlighted is the need for change in the current economic model. Local communities are not benefiting from national growth, and recent social and economic developments have revealed and exacerbated existing inequalities. While local economic development is the goal, we need to include wellbeing, happiness, the reduction of poverty and carbon emissions as metrics for economic success. Hearing how various practitioners have been adopting community wealth building strategies shows how it is not a one size fits all model. While the principles of community wealth building form the basis of the economic model, it is the needs and wants of the community in question that informs its practice and shapes what it looks like for their localities. Most importantly, they show that a different approach is possible to impact the widespread changes we need.
Community wealth building for Black and Minoritised communities
From its inception, community wealth building has been central to The Ubele Initiative’s vision for the growth and sustainability of our communities. Our seminal research, ‘A Place to Call Home’, provided an important overview of the challenges the African diaspora community in England faced around community asset ownership and their role in community wealth building. Since then, we have worked with leaders and members of Black and Minoritised communities, to support them in sustaining community assets and our
Community Wealth Building Hub is working to address Ubele’s strategic aim in Enterprise and Asset Development.
While the Summit gave little attention to what a community wealth building approach looks like for Black and Minoritised Communities, speakers and practitioners emphasised the need for a bottom-up approach for growth. This is something Ubele has and continues to do through our work with grassroots organisations and groups. Such an approach requires engagement with communities and their needs. Communities themselves need to identify the issues, define the questions, and come up with the solutions. With racial and ethnic inequalities in health, poverty, employment, housing (to name a few), we need to think about what community wealth building could look like for Black and Minoritised communities, what specific needs or differences need to be taken into account when applying this approach to our localities, and how this approach can be used as a tool in the economic development of our communities.
Sabera Bhayat - Policy and Research Officer
Five practical ways to kick start your community wealth building journey https://cles.org.uk/blog/five-practical-ways/?mc_cid=7fa0bfe627&mc_eid=885c4f7da2
A Light in the Dark: Progressive Frontiers in Local Economies, Centre for Local Economic Strategies, 2022, https://cles.org.uk/publications/a-light-in-the-dark/