Community wealth building as an idea originates from the Democracy Collaborative at the University of Maryland. The think tank worked in Cleveland, Ohio, to create an economic inclusion strategy for the city’s low-income communities. It successfully demonstrated how community-based worker cooperatives, with the support of what they called anchor institutions, could create green jobs and boost the local economy in an urban community which has long suffered from economic neglect.
The work of the Democracy Collaborative influenced the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) in the UK. In order to transform the relationship between communities in the UK with the wider economy, CLES have encouraged a people-centred approach to local economic development. They have done so by shifting the balance of control of the wealth to local people, businesses, communities, and organisations. This work has seen a transformation of the places who prioritise building community wealth, with the most famous example being that of Preston.
The ‘Preston Model’ is a holistic framework for integrating community, cooperative, and public assets into a supporting system that is mutually owned to create local economic prosperity. Guided by city councillor Mathew Brown, Preston council began mapping out opportunities for local procurement amongst ‘anchor institutions’. These organisations are locally rooted and embedded in the local community, as well as a large resource base for local purchasing. In Preston this included the hospital, the university, and Lancashire County Council, among others. Wherever possible, these anchor institutions were encouraged to shift spending towards local procurement. This approach has seen the city named as the most improved city in the UK by PWC.
"The best way to get people to think outside the box is not to create the box in the first place." - Martin Cooper, American engineer and visionary.