Since 2013 Preston has undergone significant economic regeneration using a non-traditional grassroots method called Community Wealth Building. This approach involves tackling inequality by ensuring the economic development of Preston is shared more equally among its residents.
While success may take decades, there are already some signs it is paying off. Preston had the joint-second biggest improvement in its position on the multiple deprivation index between 2010 and 2015. In 2016 it was voted the best city in north-west England to live and work.
The Preston Model took inspiration from the ‘Democracy Collaborative’ in Cleveland to spur economic growth by investing in local businesses and worker cooperatives.
In 2013, Preston council employed the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES), to help identify twelve large institutions anchored to Preston, including the city and county councils, the university, the police and the hospital. It looked at redirecting the £1.2bn total annual spending power of these anchors to local businesses.
Preston City council has since spent an additional £4m locally, from 14% of its budget in 2012 to 28% in 2016. The council is even looking to set up a local bank to provide loans to small businesses.
- Learn and adapt: The Preston Model drew heavily from the work of the ‘Democracy Collaborative’ in Cleveland, which in turn drew inspiration from the Basque region of Spain and the success of the Mondragon Corporation of worker cooperatives. The lessons from these programmes were brought over and adapted to fit Preston.
- Understand local context: Those in Preston understood that trying to replicate the Cleveland model exactly was unlikely to be a success. CLES adapted it to fit the context—rather than creating cooperatives from scratch as the Democracy Collaborative did, they sought existing business that could compete with large corporations and win contracts, and then pass the work onto local businesses and workers. They did this with a £1.6M council food budget which was won, then broken into lots and awarded to local farmers.
- Think long term: The University of Central Lancashire has recently established a Preston Cooperative Network. It will teach students about cooperatives and connect them to support for setting up their own. Over time, this will allow students to fill skills gaps, and allow the model to scale and bring about broader change.
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