Local economies Power and leadership

Community wealth building: from neighbourhoods up

Rob Day, Policy Assistant at Local Trust, reflects on the main take-aways from a two-day consultation that took place in November 2019 at St George’s House, Windsor, focussing on how community wealth Building can be effective at the neighbourhood level

Introducing community wealth building

Started in the USA by The Democracy Collaborative, community wealth building represents a set of principles designed to redistribute the flows of wealth within the economy. Its aim is to share economic benefits more equally between businesses and the communities in which wealth is generated. Since its conception, community wealth building has crossed the Atlantic, taking root across Europe. In the UK, the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) have worked alongside over 35 local Councils from Preston to Newham and national governments including the Welsh Assembly to embed these principles within our economy.

At Local Trust, we have been interested in whether community wealth building principles can be implemented by residents at the neighbourhood level and whether this can then lead to economic change on a national scale.

To begin, we invited Ted Howard, the founder of The Democracy Collaborative, on a week-long tour of communities across the country to see communities that had begun to put into practice some of the principles of community wealth building and evaluate how this activity might be scaled up and turned into a national movement.

As part of this tour, we brought together a group of experts and practitioners from academia, think tanks, government, the voluntary and private sectors as well as residents from Big Local to discuss the principles of community wealth building, whether they are applicable at the neighbourhood level and how we might drive the movement forward.

Influence at the neighbourhood level

In the UK to date, community wealth building has been implemented by local, regional or national governments. It has been top-down in its design and implementation, with strategies being devised by politicians and consultants rather than local people. There has been little done to assess whether community wealth building principles can be applied by local residents within their own communities to both build wealth and influence the wider economic system.

One of the most insightful sessions of the consultation involved hearing from residents of communities that are driving economic change in their areas. The residents spoke about how they are developing different approaches to building wealth in their neighbourhoods. These ranged from creating cooperatively owned community spaces, creating a local enterprise hub and building a solar farm which shared its profits between local residents and the wider region.

One of the overall objectives of community wealth building is to completely transform the flows of wealth within our economy, not just to develop local communities. Therefore, one of the main points of contention about the effectiveness of neighbourhood-level activity was whether it could have a sufficient impact upon the wider economy beyond that one community. Throughout the consultation, we found that where initiatives had been most successful, they had been able to work alongside and influence the decisions of larger organisations – often called ‘anchor’ institutions – with a connection to the wider economy. In this way, they were able to not only retain greater wealth in their community, but also to influence change more broadly.

Taking the movement forward

The final day of the consultation focused on how we can take community wealth building forward and bring about effective change in the communities that would benefit the most. Despite the variety of viewpoints, there was a general consensus that the community wealth building movement has the potential to fundamentally transform our economy and improve the distribution of wealth nationally. Nevertheless, this was caveated by a warning against prescriptive practice from consultants trying to influence change without thought to the varied needs of each community.

For community wealth building to work, the principles applied must be flexible enough to adapt to the needs of different people and communities at the most local level. These principles should help to guide the redistribution of wealth within a local community whilst helping to connect these communities to larger actors. Implemented in this way, community wealth building can build local wealth whilst transforming of the larger economic ecosystem at the same time.

Read the full report from the discussion held at St. George’s House.