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Community wealth building – a better approach to regeneration?

07 December 2023

Community Wealth Building is a dynamic people centred approach to economic development which aims to create a direct link between the production of wealth and community benefit.  It's becoming increasingly popular amongst policy makers designing regeneration programmes. In this article, Alexander Rose addresses the main questions people have about Community Wealth building. 

What is Community Wealth Building ("CWB")?

CWB is an approach to economic development designed to maximise returns to the community, in particular by ensuring investments, and day to day decisions, made by public authorities and other important community stakeholders (such as universities, housing providers and hospitals) focus upon how to deliver long term, positive outcomes for local communities.

State interventions are designed to protect public values and deliver positive outcomes for citizens.

Where was the idea developed?

The concept has been championed in the UK by the progressive economic think tanks such as the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES), but its roots go back further, including in the European Social Democratic tradition and within the United States by the Democracy Collaborative.  However, what is particularly exciting about Community Wealth Building is that it is very much a developing concept.

How can CWB be incorporated into regeneration projects?

Policy makers looking at ways to incorporate CWB will most likely want to work through the five interlinked pillars, looking to identify steps which can be taken to tailor projects to CWB objectives.  These are:

Shared ownership of the local economy

This pillar aims at "locking wealth into the local community" by making decisions which support the local economy. This may include making purchasing decisions with consideration of how this may support local enterprises in the local area to achieve their potential, but also considering how conditions around grant funding are drawn up.

Practical examples include public sector insourcing as demonstrated by Liverpool City Council, municipal entrepreneurship and employee ownership.

Making financial power work for local places

This pillar focuses on the idea of increasing flows of investment into the local economy by harnessing and recirculating the wealth that already exists, as opposed to attracting capital.

Practical examples include – redirecting local pension funds to support local investment communities as successfully done by Preston City Council and support for local Credit Unions and loans to community groups.

Fair employment and just labour markets

This pillar focuses on the part workers have to play in the economy, including the benefits which can be generated by creating favourable employment conditions, development prospects, access to unions and fair wages.

Practical examples include the concept of real living wage and inclusive employer programmes.

Progressive procurement of goods and services

This pillar recognises the buying power of the public sector has and how this can be harnessed to leverage positive outcomes. This effect can be amplified further by public sector bodies working effectively together or with local businesses, SMEs and social enterprises to develop a resilient local supply chain. By doing this, communities can retain wealth within local areas. Examples of this pillar in action include local spending initatives and social value frameworks.

Socially just use of land and property

This pillar focuses upon the function and ownership of local assets held by anchor institutions (such as colleges or councils) so that financial and social gain is harnessed by citizens. By developing and extending the community use of public land can foster a healthier, happier, and more economically thriving communities.

Examples of this include affordable housing projects and community asset transfers.


Community Wealth Building aims to generate greater returns from the investment and decision making processes of public authorities and other community stakeholders in order to deliver long term, positive outcomes for local communities.

It compliments and can be incorporated into many other regeneration initiatives and for this reason is becoming increasingly popular amongst policy makers (1).  However, it need not be the preserve of policy makers, indeed those delivering projects or choosing funding conditions can incorporate lessons from CWB into their work. 

(1) The Scottish Government have already adopted the approach of CWB, as documented in their National Strategy for Economic Transformation.

Further Reading