The Preston Model – local wealth building

| Azad Sharma

For a place that achieved city status in 2002 and is laden with history dating back to the Roman conquest of Britain, Preston is stamping a new mark on history with a unique, innovative, and inspiring model of local wealth building.

Following the turmoil of the 2008 financial crash, life in Preston – like much of post-industrial Britain – became increasingly precarious. The ‘ground zero’ for this radically new localism came when local council spending on the £700m Tithebarn shopping mall ground to a halt in 2011. Big companies like John Lewis and M&S pulled out of a promising retail development and created a vacuum.

So how did Preston City Council manage to grow local business, create worker-owned co-operatives and increase money spent locally in an era of historically drastic cuts? Matthew Brown, a member of the Council cabinet, working with the Manchester based consultancy, the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES), came up with an idea to harness public services and build local wealth. Check out their video to see how it works:

What really stood out to us at the Ideas Hub was the focus on a collaborative approach between public services, local business, and the determined citizens of Preston. This approach, often fondly referred to as ‘guerrilla localism’ has been so successful that ‘The Preston Model’ is now being used by economists to fight the cause for more collaborations of this nature. What we were really moved by was the simplicity of the model: public services, local businesses, and the community were brought together to listen to each other, help improve the current conditions and build for the future.

So how do we measure the success of the model? A few examples stood out: in 2012, Preston became the UK’s first living wage employer in the north of England. But, our favourite example of the success of their work comes from 2015 when Lancashire council put out a contract for school meals. No local business would have been able to manage the bid on their own so it was broken down into bite-size chunks and the bid evolved into several manageable strands based on produce. So, there were individual bids to provide yogurt, sandwich fillings, eggs, cheese etc. One contract became nine and it is a really wonderful example of officials shaping a market to fit their society: and it worked! Local supplies using Lancashire farmers won every bit and provided an estimated £2m boost to the county.

The Preston Model is gathering momentum and attracting lots of similarly inspired professionals and politicians. A sign of hope? Yes, without a doubt, but perhaps more pertinently: a fine example of how collaboration between public bodies and local communities can help smaller cities put their best foot forward in the most challenging of times.

Photo by Oskars Sylwan

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