Building community wealth with social enterprise 

Posted: 28 February 2022, in Blog

Scotland and the wider world face many big economic challenges. 

Relying on old measures like GDP, top-down regeneration and the concentration of wealth in a few hands has failed to deliver genuine economic success. 

However, Community Wealth Building (CWB) promises a more practical, inclusive and sustainable approach to development.

According to the UK Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES), Community wealth building is “a new people-centred approach to local economic development, which redirects wealth back into the local economy, and places control and benefits into the hands of local people”.

The approach combines a number of broad characteristics. This includes more democratic, shared ownership of the economy, with support for the development of SMEs, social enterprises, employee ownership, cooperatives, municipal activity and community enterprises. 

Fair employment practices, just labour markets and meaningful work are a vital component too, alongside social and progressive procurement of goods and services that uses spending by key organisations to support more diverse and resilient local businesses.

It’s also about making financial power work for local communities, investing locally and encouraging national bodies to invest locally too, plus maximising the productive use of land and property for social good and community benefit.

The question for social enterprises is how do we play a full part – and indeed lead – on this agenda? CWB is clearly of direct interest and benefit to social enterprise development and the local people and groups that we exist to serve.

North Ayrshire Council has been at the forefront of piloting Community Wealth Building at a local level in Scotland. Mhairi Paterson, Community Wealth Building Co-ordinator, North Ayrshire Council says:

“The recent health emergency and economic crisis has highlighted the importance of creating a new economic model focused on wellbeing and inclusion. North Ayrshire has some of the highest levels of social and economic deprivation and vacant and derelict land in Scotland. At the same time, we are facing a climate crisis, with the Council declaring a Climate Emergency in 2019.

“To help address these challenges, North Ayrshire Council launched Scotland’s first Community Wealth Building (CWB) Strategy in May 2020 with the mission of enhancing local wealth, creating fair jobs and maximising the potential of all our places through working in partnership with our communities and businesses, alongside wider local and regional Anchor Institutions.”

Go Beyond is a group of small local networks in South-West Edinburgh. WHALE Arts, along with SPACE Broomhouse Hub and Big Hearts Community Trust, have been the Community Wealth Building Project leads since August 2021. Gemma Smith of WHALE Arts says: 

The project, so far, has been successful in working alongside local communities, groups, charities, small businesses and enterprises, whilst providing a link to support and invest in change between local councils, large contractors and wider area networks. 

“The project chose to focus on two of the five pillars of Community Wealth Building i.e. the socially productive use of land and property and plural ownership of the economy. The choice to focus on these came both from a mixture of taking an interest in local projects currently in the area and following the results of a community survey whereby responses supported a focus on these two key areas.” 

“Since then, the project has been successful in working alongside community groups across the locality with progress being made in an area of Wester Hailes and Colinton as well as beginning to plan Summer events in Oxgangs and Pentlands. Currently, the project is looking to create a small grants process for small businesses and local social enterprises as a means to ‘kickstart’ their business or further develop on an idea.”

As local communities continue to pilot and develop CWB approaches we should ensure that the social enterprise voice is heard loud and clear. There are countless benefits of this locally-led approach for individuals and families, as well as for enterprises and public sector agencies.

We should also raise awareness of CWB to ensure that everyone in the local community has heard of and understands this practical initiative. Only with a high level of popular, democratic participation will Community Wealth Building be truly successful long-term.

Duncan Thorp, Social Enterprise Scotland