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25 September 2023

A creative approach to community wealth building

By Alice Masson, senior consultant

Last month, Nina and I attended Development Trusts Association Scotland’s (DTAS) 2023 conference – a welcome opportunity to meet with key members in the community space and increase our understanding of the current issues and policies affecting the sector.

Over the course of two days, we were lucky enough to visit a local project I didn’t realise was operating on my doorstep (Woodlands Community Development Trust) and attend thought-provoking workshops that set my brain into solution development mode. 

First up was Community Wealth Building, a workshop delivered by DTAS and the Yunus Centre at Glasgow Caledonian University.

Community wealth building (CWB) focuses on developing alternative economic goals, aiming to put local wealth back into local economies.

A key principle here is a bottom-up approach. However, in Scotland this element may already have been lost. Seeing the success of CWB in other countries, the Scottish Government set out a commitment to CWB legislation in its 2021-22 Programme for Government.

CWB’s success in places such as Cleveland, USA and Preston, England came from grassroots organisations that developed the concepts and processes needed for its implementation. The Scottish Government’s nationalised decision to adopt CWB may already have skewed its bottom-up essence to a top-down initiative. 

Recent research conducted by the Yunus Centre identified 3 key themes currently hindering the adoption of CWB in Scotland:

1. Leadership: who leads the implementation – Scottish Government? Local authorities? Or the communities themselves? 

2. Partnerships: should there be wider management of municipalities, or do we rely on grassroots power?

3. Funding: the proposal is to use current budgets differently, as opposed to forming new funding pots. However, to pivot from the current response to economic development, won’t new resources be required?

All of these issues centre around a lack of communication between the Scottish Government, local authorities, and communities. 

How then can we solve them? 

Enter Creative Placemaking, our second workshop of the conference, delivered by The Stove Network

The concept of creative placemaking sits at an intersection of people, place and creativity, and draws on participation from public, private and third sector agencies. It involves: 

  • A grassroots approach

  • Cross-sector partnerships

  • Innovation

  • Opportunities for communities

  • Creative sector development

  • Open communication

  • Skills development and lifelong learning 

Do these principles sound familiar? Creative placemaking is not focused on a fixed outcome, and is instead centred around being open to where possibilities could take a project. This stands in direct juxtaposition to the current rhetoric surrounding CWB.

Could some of the barriers to CWB in Scotland – namely communication, partnerships and the need to recentre away from a top-down approach – be solved via a creative placemaking approach? I think yes!

At the heart of creative placemaking is working with local creatives to engage a local community to develop their local area. Creatives can work with local authorities, development trusts or other community groups to identify how CWB might work for them. This approach could bring back that integral bottom-up methodology. Engaging creatives in this way also opens the door to another market for them, thus delivering on the local economic impact CWB strives to achieve. 

Localised procurement is another way to embody CWB. There is apprehension towards this due to the potential for increased costs, however these costs could encourage wider economic impact. Understanding the economic impact of localised investment will be integral in shifting power and wealth back into local communities.

There are other tools that can aid the implementation of CWB, but action towards a working model needs to hold initiatives within communities at the heart of discussion. Grassroots creative placemaking shows how communities can be strengthened successfully, across a range of factors.

My thanks to DTAS, and the team behind the 2023 conference. I came away enlivened by the knowledge and conversations shared, and ready to take this approach to communities and their local economies into my own work.

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