The Government’s self-stated promise to revamp communities, towns and town centres never seemed so important. As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic it is apparent that economic recovery, alongside action to tackle climate change, are both high up on the agenda.

A range of major funding injections promise to support the revamp:

  • £4.8 billion funding from the Levelling Up Fund will see the government investing money into high street regeneration, local transport projects, and cultural and heritage assets [1].
  • £830 million from the Future High Streets Fund is in place to help 72 areas in England to recover from the pandemic through regeneration [2].
  • The Levelling Up White Paper is set to be published soon. This will articulate how bold new policy interventions will improve opportunity and boost livelihoods across the country as we recover from the pandemic [3].

It is stressed that although this funding is a start, economic interventions alone won’t be sufficient. They need to be accompanied by a focus on improving place – implemented partly at a hyperlocal neighbourhood level.

It is often communities that are on the periphery of former industrial areas and coastal areas, that have missed out on funding in the past. Over recent decades these places have experienced losses that extend past the economy, such as loss of trade union structures and places to meet like pubs and community centres.

The Strategy of Lewes District Council

Zoe Nicholson is the Leader of Lewes District Council [4].  Zoe spoke to us about the ways that the district council are supporting their community into recovery after Covid-19 whilst ensuring that economic recovery does not come into conflict with Carbon Net-Zero targets.

They led the development of a cross-party corporate strategy putting social and environmental justice at the centre of the Council’s Plan. Zoe also has experience in combining carbon net-zero ambitions and economic recovery as part of the council’s Covid-19 recovery plans.

Zoe outlines the key challenges that the Lewes District is facing in the wake of Covid-19:

  • Parts of the district such as Newhaven are in dire need of regeneration
  • Unemployment is rising because of the pandemic, with an increasing reliance on state benefits
  • The district is dominated by Small to Medium Enterprises and a high proportion of the population is self-employed.
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The District Council plans to tackle these issues by combining Community Wealth Building and Green Principles to generate a sustainable recovery.

A New Approach to Regeneration and Recovery

Zoe reflects on the need to produce a people-centred strategy for economic recovery in the Lewes District.

Consequently, they have adopted the Community Wealth Building (CWB) model that was developed by the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) [5].

CWB is a powerful corrective to an economic model that has left many people worse off.

It is a people-centred approach to local economic development, which redirects wealth back into the local economy. This places control in the hands of local people.

The CWB lays out five pillars to embed in regeneration strategies:

  • Finance – Increase flows of investment within local economies by harnessing and recirculating the wealth that exists, as opposed to attracting capital
  • Land and property – Deepen the function and ownership of local assets held by anchor institutions, so that financial and social gain is harnessed by citizens
  • Spending – Utilise public sector procurement and commissioning to develop dense local supply chains of businesses likely to support good employment and retain work locally
  • Workforce – Exercise fair employment practices and work to develop a more just labour market to improve the prospects and wellbeing of local people
  • Building the generative economy – Develop and grow small, locally owned enterprises which ae more financially generative for the local economy – locking wealth into place

Making Financial Power Work for Local Places

As part of the East Sussex wide response to Covid-19, Lewes District have been making sure that they work collaboratively with their partners to encourage economic investment back into the community.

Zoe explains that as a small district council they must make sure that they work with other anchor institutions such as the County Council and NHS partners. Lewes Council have been encouraging partners to develop economic recovery plans that put green recovery at the heart of what they’re doing.

East Sussex Economic Recovery Plan

The six missions shown above are followed by Lewes District Council when developing an economic recovery strategy. They present this mission when they approach community partners for help in redirecting wealth back to the community.

Fair Employment and Just Labour Markets

The council have been piloting a local labour policy for large planning applications in areas of greater deprivation, such as Newhaven. These planning applications help to ensure that those people who are furthest down the job queue get the opportunity and support to train in new areas.

A lot of this planning has resulted in the development of construction worksites. The aim of this is to offer further job opportunities to people in the district. Additionally, the council has stimulated social entrepreneurs and developed social enterprise solutions to boost the prospects of the self-employed and SME population.

Zoe notes that the council are looking into developing a Good Employment Charter as well as eventually making it so that the whole District achieves Living Wage Place status alongside being a Living Wage employer.

Progressive Procurement of Goods and Services

Zoe emphasises that in their mind, the council’s job is to ensure that as much of the money as possible that the district produces is invested into the local economic area.

They challenge councils to think more carefully about how they use their buying power. This power should be channelled into insisting that local institutions commit to carbon reduction and better employment standards. It is worth sitting down and analysing how to build fair working practices and how to structure procurement to promote green development.

Socially Productive Use of Land and Property

Zoe provides an example of the leadership mentality described above. Lewes District Council have invested in a new modular housing that leads the area towards their Carbon Net-Zero targets. They have developed over 400 homes worth over £1 million.

Much of the early progress on embedding CWB strategy to the district has been shown through building projects. A recent development of 13 affordable rental properties was built on a redundant housing office in Newhaven.

New affordable housing development in Newhaven

The development was built by a local modular housing company, 30% of their workforce being from the local FE college as well as a local lettings plan to support local people.

The properties in the development are affordable and offer low heating bills as they are very well insulated. They also promote sustainable living through solar energy procurement.

The development sought to give social value back to the community by using local builders and young workers whilst trying to transition away from fossil-fueled domestic living.

Furthermore, one of the key components of the council’s CWB plans is to ensure that council land and assets are ‘socially productive’ where possible. They developed The Sidings Newhaven with this in mind.

The Sidings Cafe Newhaven

The café was a derelict container that has been turned into a social hub. The council encouraged social enterprises to work with local businesses to create this new facility. It provides jobs and a place for members of the community to reconnect after the pandemic.

Lessons Learned

The overarching ambition of Lewes District Council is to achieve sustainable living whilst meeting the zero-carbon target by 2030. There is a long way to go and sometimes it feels like we can only rely on governments and other partners to make a change. However, small councils and communities must do what they can with where they are and with who they have.

It is interesting that the CWB strategy was unheard of in the council until 18 months ago. The 18 months of engagement in this model was driven strongly by new councillors including Zoe.

They explain that it has taken practice to change the way that the district thinks about economic development, but they are slowly reaping the benefits of this strategy in the wider community through repurposing and job procurement.

1] GOV.UK. 2021. Policy paper, Levelling Up Fund: prospectus

[2] GOV.UK. 2021. Press release. £830 million funding boost for high streets

[3] GOV.UK. 2021. Press release Government to publish Levelling Up White Paper

[4] Nicholson, Zoe. 2021. Leader of Lewes District Council

[5] The National Organisation for Local Economies.  

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As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, economic recovery is a priority. Zoe Nicholson, Leader of Lewes District Council speaks to us about their strategy to regenerate the Lewes District using sustainable and people-centred methods.

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