'Preston Model' of community wealth building 'more famous in other places', city convention organiser says

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The “Preston Model” of public sector working is probably better known beyond the borders of the city that lent its name to the concept.

That was the assessment of a community interest company boss who recently staged a convention in Preston designed to empower and inspire grassroots groups and individuals to improve the places where they live.

Ruth Hannan, the outgoing director of the People’s Powerhouse, said that the city’s community wealth building work – from which the Preston Model moniker was coined – had been a great backdrop for the 2023 “This is the North” event.

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She told the Lancashire Post that there was enthusiasm from delegates elsewhere across the North to find out more about the premise of the model, which aims to direct spending by public sector bodies towards local companies and encourage institutions like the NHS to look to their local populations when recruiting.

Preston City Council leader Matthew Brown at the This is the North convention in the cityPreston City Council leader Matthew Brown at the This is the North convention in the city
Preston City Council leader Matthew Brown at the This is the North convention in the city

However, Ruth said that while the convention heard inspirational stories from community groups operating in the city, it was important that all Preston residents understood what was being done in their name – so that they could “buy into” it, get the most benefit from it and help the idea to flourish.

“I think it’s about creating a simple way for people to comprehend [what the Preston Model is]…and that there’s something to be proud of.

“[It’s easier if] a big event comes to a town – like the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002 – because everybody gets really behind it and is really enthusiastic about what it will do.

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“With the Preston Model, you want people to understand it, so that if they’re stood on a train station platform with somebody who’s not from Preston, they could say: ‘This is what it is, this is how it benefits me and this is why it’s great’.

“So when we talk about community wealth building, how do we get the community as active participants?” Ruth asked.

Preston City Council leader Matthew Brown said that he believes the approach is now “embedded” locally – but he agreed that it was important people understood how and why it had been taken.

“We’re doing things quite differently, but with community wealth building, it’s often many things happening at different times, sometimes with different people in different organisations. So [the public] might not necessarily think that what is happening is part of a wider strategy.

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“But there are examples we can point to [like] people getting…more jobs in our big institutions through community wealth building and, in terms of the city centre, we’ve got £100m pounds of public-led regeneration, [meaning that] the city is owning assets. That in itself is quite participatory, in the sense that we do get to engage with local businesses.

“Then there is the other work we’re doing around cooperatives – for example, we’ve got the Brookfield retrofit cooperative [led by] a community organisation and the housing cooperative [for] the traveller community [on Leighton Street].

“So people are benefiting, but, frankly, people are living very stressful lives and working very hard – so they’re not thinking about economic theory,” Cllr Brown added.

Ruth Hannan said that one of the other themes that emerged at the two-day convention in late November was the need for local government to be as flexible as it can be in its attempts to improve people’s lives – and not to become “bogged down with the rigidity of [the system]”.

“Most of the time, we have to fit into the system, rather than the system adapting to us,” she said.