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Local economies

Can Community Wealth Building deliver change at the neighbourhood level?

Rob Day considers what Community Wealth Building initiatives can deliver at the neighbourhood level.

Ted Howard and Marjorie Kelly from think tank, the Democracy Collaborative argue that our current economic system is undemocratic, unsustainable and must be reformed.(1) In its place, they call for a democratic economy to “meet the essential needs of all of us, balance human consumption with the regenerative capacity of the earth, respond to the voices and concerns of regular people, and share prosperity without regard to race, gender, national origin, or wealth.” They map an alternative; finding the seeds of a new economy in a range of initiatives communities are developing in places such as South Dakota, Portland, and Cleveland in the US and Preston in the UK.[2]

US movement

The Democracy Collaborative started the community wealth building movement in the U.S.A. several decades ago and since then their work has influenced thinking in the UK, where local authorities like Preston have sought to pursue economic development based on principles of: community; inclusion; place; good work; democratic ownership and sustainability.

CLES (the Centre for Local Economic Strategies), who are based in the UK and work closely with the Democracy Collaborative, pointed to an increase in community wealth building in the UK in their most recent report.  They note that in 2016, they were working with just 11 local authorities, yet this year they have supported over 30 localities to consider how they might adopt the approach.


To date, much discussion of community wealth building, at least in the media, has focused on the “Preston model” and the role that local authorities play as anchor institutions, procuring services locally and paying fair wages.

However, the model can encompass a much broader range of approaches, several which are being trialled in Preston. For example, Preston Council have worked with UCLan, local people, and organisations to develop worker cooperatives,  enabling a £200m investment into the local economy.

Prosper Portland

Notably, in the US there is at least one initiative – Prosper Portland  – that is community led and shares much in common with our Big Local programme; where communities are provided with a budget to plan and shape local economic development. Local Trust knows from its experience of delivering the Big Local programme how powerful such an approach, which puts communities genuinely in the lead, can be.

As so few community wealth building stories focus on models operating at the neighbourhood level led by communities rather than local authorities we decided to try and raise their profile. We have therefore partnered with Power to Change, Friends Provident Foundation, Barrow Cadbury Trust, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Open Society Foundation, CLES and the Democracy Collaborative on a week-long programme of events exploring community wealth building at the neighbourhood level across England.

Events 18 – 21 November 2019

Monday will include a key note address from Ted Howard, Director and Co-Founder at the Democracy Collaborative, where he will be discussing the full breadth of the principles behind community wealth building and how it can be used to drive economic development across the country.

Events throughout the rest of the week will each focus on specific principles of community wealth building. We will be hearing from community-workers on the ground who have begun to implement changes and seen real outcomes from this approach, as well as discussing the opportunities and challenges that the future holds.

Exploring Community Wealth Building either side of the Atlantic
Monday 18 November
Location: Toynbee Hall, East London
10:00 – 12:00
Book tickets here

Unlocking the economic power of communities to keep wealth local
Tuesday 19 November
Location: Co-Innovation Space, ​Stembrook Lane, Dover, Kent. CT16 1PF
Roundtable discussion
14:00 – 16:00

Building a more democratic, plural economy
Wednesday 20 November
Location: The Exchange CIC, 13 West St, Morecambe LA3 1RB
Panel Discussion
14:00 – 16:00

The case for community housing and community asset ownership
Thursday 21 November
Location: HEART, Bennett Road, Leeds, LS6 3HN
Roundtable Discussion
15:00 – 17:00

If you would be interested in attending any of the events, please contact Rob Day

[1] Howard. T & Kelly. M, The Making of the Democratic Economy, (2019)

[2] ibid p3