Community Wealth Building

5 lessons from North Ayrshire


Sarah Deas recently spoke at the Community Wealth Building Summit 2020. Reflecting on North Ayrshire’s experience, she shared 5 lessons for implementing this pioneering approach as other areas of Scotland embark on their own community wealth building journeys:

Lesson 1 – Set a vision & get buy-in

Setting a Community Wealth Building (CWB) vision has been fundamental in enabling North Ayrshire Council to achieve what it has in such a short period of time. This has been championed by the leader, Cllr Joe Cullinane. The vision should be clear and ambitious, but practical. This enables everyone to buy in and appreciate how they contribute to its realisation.

Lesson 2 – Commit to anchor education & collaboration

Strong anchor organisation involvement is key to CWB. So, it’s important to recognise that it takes time to build anchors’ understanding of the approach and what it means in terms of their economic and social roles. It’s fundamentally about ‘systems change’. From the council’s perspective, it transcends all functions, from procurement and HR, to regeneration and community development. Everyone, in whatever function, needs to be willing to look at their role from a different perspective and work with others to achieve a better outcome for the region.

For the council and other anchors, it involves reaching out to leaders and staff so that everyone sees their job through a CWB lens. It’s an influencing ‘hearts and minds’ task – engaging many individuals across many organisations. And, helping everyone understand that it is a shared endeavour, requiring collaboration, between and within organisations.

Lesson 3 – Rethink everything

We shouldn’t underestimate how difficult this may be. It requires people to feel empowered to challenge. It requires people to explore radical solutions and develop innovative approaches. It requires people to ask fundamental questions like… how do we design a solution that doesn’t embed inequality?… how can we create more local jobs?…. how can we keep income circulating in the local economy?… how can we use assets for local benefit?… how can we reduce our environmental impact?… what more can we achieve by collaborating with others?

Spotting ‘quick wins’ can help in this process; demonstrating the benefits and giving people the confidence and courage to embrace a new economic model.

Lesson 4 – Prioritise bottom up engagement

This is particularly important. Local businesses, social enterprises and community organisations lie at the heart of the approach. It’s important they feel involvement and ownership. If it is perceived as the ‘next new thing’ from the council that will only create disengagement and disgruntlement.

Community Wealth Building requires place-based resource to support the growth and development of local enterprises including social and community enterprises. To support this, North Ayrshire Council has invested in nine new CWB roles including CWB Business Locality Officers, Regeneration Officers, Procurement Specialist and Community Benefits Officer, as well as reshaping current roles.

Lesson 5 – Value challenge & feedback

North Ayrshire is on a journey, moving into new territories. As such, it has established an Expert Advisory Group to act as a sounding board and critical friend… challenging thinking and providing advice. Membership is drawn from the Centre for Local Economic Strategies, Common Wealth, Community Enterprise in Scotland, Co-operatives UK, Democracy Collaborative, Open Democracy, Scottish Trades Union Congress and the Wellbeing Economy Alliance.

Agenda items have included developing an anchor charter, how to promote plural ownership and the potential for community banking. The group is committed to helping the region capitalise on CWB as a bottom-up approach that hard wires social and environmental impact into how the economy works.

Find out more about the CWB work we are supporting in Clackmannanshire, Tay, the Glasgow city region, the Western Isles and the south of Scotland

Sarah Deas is Chair of North Ayrshire Council’s Community Wealth Building expert advisory group. She is also a Trustee of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance (Scotland).

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