Northwest & Larne Community Wealth Building Partnerships

What is Community Wealth Building?

Community Wealth Building (CWB) is a new people-centred approach to local economic development, which redirects wealth back into the local economy. This means it’s all about empowering local people and ensuring the benefits flow right back into local areas. CWB isn’t about bringing in something new, it’s about using what we already have, our existing assets, and making them work harder for our community’s advantage. 

In the past few years this concept is beginning to catch on, governments across the UK are embracing CWB strategies proving that this people-centric approach will be at the heart of much future decision making. 

Although it represents a new approach to local economic development, Community Wealth Building has roots globally and has shown to offer creative solutions and positive local economic impacts in other UK and international institutional contexts such as Cleveland (USA), Preston (England) and Scotland where the Scottish government are in the process of implementing a dedicated Community Wealth Building Act. In Northern Ireland, the concept already forms a central theme of the Department for Communities’ new five-year strategy, Building Inclusive Communities, to “grow and scale community wealth building” to support sustainability and inclusive growth. 

Community Wealth Building focuses on developing targeted strategies and approaches across five interrelated pillars. DTNI have adapted the five pillars of CWB to the pilots in  Northern Ireland. They are: 

  • Plural ownership of the economy 
  • Making financial power work for local places 
  • Fair employment and just labour markets 
  • Progressive procurement of goods and services 
  • Socially productive use of land and property 

It is important to acknowledge that there is no one-size-fits-all model of community wealth building. This means that each experiment with community wealth building might be different based on the local context, ecosystem, resources, and politics. 

Northwest and Larne Community Wealth Building partnerships  

Since the publication of an independent set of recommendations by the Department for Communities in October 2022, two pilot partnerships facilitated by Development Trusts NI have been developed to explore the possibility of place-based working and to advance community wealth building practices locally across Northern Ireland. These pilot partnerships are based in Larne and the North-West respectively and are led by community anchor organisations but also include direct input and involvement from institutions in the public and local private sectors. 

Each place-based partnership is led by community anchor organisations that are working collaboratively to bring economic, social, and environmental improvements that are measurable and sustainable for individuals and communities living across their respective areas.  

These anchor organisations are based or operate close to the most deprived neighbourhoods so have the capacity to build community wealth in terms of recycling their income locally by creating new jobs or building local supply chains with other businesses—both social and private. 

Some of these organisations spoke to DTNI’s Corporate Support Officer Deirdre Morrissey about the services they provide and why they got involved in the CWB partnership. 

New Gate Cultural centre, Brian Dougherty 

Driven from a desire to establish a focal point for loyalist bands, Ulster Scots traditions and a means to address the demonisation of loyalist culture, New Gate had been operating in the Fountain, Derry for a number of years where they successfully developed a number of community focused projects. From their work with loyalist flute bands New Gate realised that the band leaders were a direct link to the communities they operated out of. The leaders voiced their frustration that the Protestant community and loyalist bands in particular were always portrayed negatively in the media, ignoring the great musicianship and the skills and discipline they teach young people. The new arts and cultural centre came about from a need for a dedicated space that could open up the bands culture to wider audiences, improve good cross community relations and encourage footfall to an area where there was a history of deprivation and community tension.  

The centre opened in November 2023 consisting of a performance and multi-use space, art and tuition rooms, a dance studio, offices and a café. Brian has future visions for the space to be considered a hub of cultural excellence as the space intends to be an inclusive shared venue for communities to host events and initiatives from across the city and region with further plans to develop accommodation for visiting groups. 

It is this spirit of collaboration that interested New Gate in the CWB partnership, the organisation had already worked on collaborative projects with neighbouring cultural bodies Culturlann and Sollas and see the partnership as a way to build more relationships within the city and beyond. They also see the initiative as an effective collaborative approach to lobby for decision making. 

Culturlann ni Chanaigh, Grace Nelis & Siubhán Nic Amhlaoibh. 

Another beautiful purpose-built space, Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin opened in 2009 as an Irish language, cultural and enterprise centre. An Cultúrlann developed from an earlier iteration- ‘An Gaeláras’(home of Irish) as a branch of Conradh na Gaeilge based in the Bogside area of Derry. When they first started out the ambition was to provide Irish language classes for adult learners and young people of the area. However, the demand was so high that to cater for learners from all over the city, and to be as inclusive as possible, it was decided to acquire city centre premises on Great James St. This site was then developed into the present state of the art centre and named after long-time Irish language activist Seán O Canáinn.  

With facilities that include a theatre and performance space, a cafe, teaching and training classrooms, business incubation suites and office space, an Cultúrlann runs a vibrant programme of events, festivals and youth work. The organisation have been involved in a lot of cross community work including (as mentioned) working with the New Gate bands forum and opening access to Irish language learners in the Waterside of the city.  

Similar to New Gate it was the desire to further relationships with other local community focused organisations which first interested An Cultúrlann to the CWB partnership. The organisation are looking at ways to diversify their economic output and input and felt that the power of a collective in terms of applying for funding and addressing civic issues would have much greater impact. They are also hopeful that their input will add to the diversity of the partnership in terms of gender, age and the cultural landscape of the city. 

Ledcom, Ken Nelson 

With a track record of almost 40 years supporting local businesses LEDCOM have a strong commitment to social economy and as a well-established social enterprise were one of the first anchor organisations approached by DTNI for this CWB pilot. 

LEDCOM (Local Economic Development Company Ltd) is a Business Enterprise Centre based in Larne.  It acts as a “one-stop-shop” for economic, enterprise and social enterprise development in Larne and Ballyclare areas, which includes their rural hinterlands. Since its establishment in 1985 they have assisted over 1,500 new start up business supporting over 2,000 jobs. 

Ken Nelson, CEO of LEDCOM is a well-known figure in the sector having been previously chair of both Enterprise Northern Ireland and Intertrade Ireland. He saw the CWB initiative as a tangible way to further existing relationships with other organisations (such as Brian O’Neill Enterprise Northwest) who have the same focus on social entrepreneurship and building a social economy, and enabling shared knowledge and skills.  

Ken states that it is this opportunity to challenge each other and to work together to help join the dots and deliver results in their respective regions which keeps the groups engaged.  

‘’The CWB initiative creates frameworks that can have the potential to deliver worthwhile projects that can have real impact on people’s lives in terms of finding worthwhile employment, skilling up and addressing a whole range of issues.  

The pilots are quite different in some ways in terms of their make-up which is not a bad thing, but we all have similar interests and reasons for being involved. The group attended the CLES conference together back in November which was valuable and a good opportunity for the respective partnerships to meet with each other and identify ways that we can help each other. Paul Roberts as the DTNI lead in this initiative has been very helpful in that he keeps pushing and stretching us – we’ve all carved out time to keep the meetings going and develop outcomes, it’s a good investment of our time and a continual learning curve.’’ 

Access Employment, Laura Stape  

Access Employment are a social enterprise who have been providing training and employment opportunities for people with learning disabilities and neurodiverse conditions for 25 years. The organisation operates 6 social enterprises on site including a café, garden centre, subcontract work, sample making, an online business, a giftware business and packaging and assembly.  

Their USP is to self-generate their own income – 75% is self-generated that supports their programmes with the remaining 25% from grant funding. 100% of their profits are reinvested into the community, providing job creation and job retention, as well as local jobs and training for disadvantaged adults. They have long standing contracts with private organisations such as Bombardier and Kilwaughter with staff based on their sites and are an integral part of those businesses supply chain.  

The organisation became aware of the CWB through previous CEO David Hunter, who was working alongside DTNI on the initiative, and who immediately saw Access Employment as a best practice example of a sustainable social enterprise model.  Laura says that they see a lot of similarity between what the organisation does and the 5 pillars of CWB. Through their work they are directly encouraging businesses to spend locally therefore redistributing wealth back into the local economy and demonstrating a saving for the public purse. 

Laura is looking forward to the group collaboration possibilities of the CWB initiative and what they can learn from their counterparts in the Derry partnership. Access Employment have been leasing their current premises for the last 13 years and are now trying to gain ownership via a community asset transfer so they hope that the combined force within the CWB partnership actions in lobbying to government can lift some of the barriers to community asset transfer, another benefit of being part of a bigger movement.  

Future plans 

The establishment of these partnerships represent a tangible effort to advance the concept of Community Wealth Building. Both the Larne and North-West Partnership recognise the need for support and endorsement from their respective local authorities, the Northern Ireland government, and other funders to harness local potential and facilitate mutual learning. This will further the promising work already accomplished and aid the execution of meaningful strategic and operational projects.