• Brian Storey BA(Hons)

The importance of Community Wealth Building post Covid-19

Just over a week ago I was in France, and the world was pretty normal. Until they shut down the shops and cafes, and I had to use the vending machine in the airport to get a coffee. ‘I’ll be glad to get home’ I thought. ‘Back to normality; It won’t be this bad in the good old UK; Just a precaution I’m sure; Be over in a few weeks’. I knew this didn’t look good, particularly for Italy, but back in Streatham, London I simply assumed I’d be fine.

Fast forward only nine days and Boris Johnston has just effectively announced a lockdown in the UK, and his Conservative government are preparing to run the country by paying businesses and salaries to prevent the UK economy from tanking. The Bank of England have lowered base rates to 0.1%. Toilet rolls and pasta are the new currency, and the sun, as if to mock us all, is shining for the first time in months.


The Corona-19 virus has changed the western economy and the world. Everyone, quite understandably, is worried and scared. We can’t be certain of anything anymore.

Or can we?


The one certainty we can plan for


In China, the numbers of infected patients were registered as 0 only a couple of days ago. This may not be the end, but it’s far better news than thousands dying. Unlike a war, we know this disease has an end.  


So, we can reasonably assume that we will be looking at a similar pattern in a couple of months’ time (around May). We don’t know how long the reverberations will last, but the worst-case scenario will see the world with a vaccine, we are told by experts, in just over a year’s time.


This is what we all need to plan for. A world post-Covid-19.

Everything has changed, but we will come out of it, and our new way of life will require us all to get together like never before. We will have had a collective disaster that we have endured as a nation (as well as globally), and that will inevitably bring us closer. Especially after being locked down in our own homes for weeks.


The need to mix and socialise in the real world (as opposed to the digital world you’re probably reading this in) will be huge. Many will have lost loved ones, and many will have conquered the symptoms and be counting themselves lucky.

I’m going to make a couple of predictions.


1.   Stronger communities will be the most important thing to emerge from this epidemic. We are already seeing it. Online pubs, fitness classes, school classes, comedy evenings and much more. All live and streamed to replace the real-world versions. It’s great to see, and an inevitable solution to our inability to meet in the flesh, and hats off to those who have changed their business models so quickly. But, they will only serve to underline the importance of meeting fellow human beings. Something, until now, we have taken for granted. I’m sure many of these new online services will continue, but people will go back to real-world experiences with a new respect for their value.

Humans will drink beer in pubs, coffee in cafes, exercise in gyms, and buy gifts and stuff from actual shops.


2.   My second prediction is we will also have a new respect for our local communities and particularly for independent businesses and organisations. Many will disappear after this has all blown over, and we will miss them dearly.


The multi-national coffee shops and fast food chains will go silent during these unprecedented times, waiting for the post CV-19 world to emerge. After that they will try to entice us with faux ‘Let’s get together’ and ‘Times are hard, enjoy 10% off’ messages. They will attempt to use their power to try and hoover up all the customers the small independents have lost.


But, I believe our local communities will see through this. It is the independent businesses, with their close ties and personal relationships that are getting together now, today, during these times of hardship. And if you’re a business it is so important to continue those extremely valuable relationships throughout this period. International and multi-nationals simply cannot replicate this.


Your local community will value you more than ever


Local businesses, that can weather the storm, will be overwhelmed with the support they’ll receive post CV-19.


If you are living in a community support your local businesses. You will be surprised at how valued you will be as a customer, more so than ever. Something you won’t get from the larger companies.


Our community, community leaders and businesses will have a unique opportunity to build our community wealth. Both financial wealth, and emotional relationship-based wealth.


And it works! That’s not a prediction of mine, it’s something that has worked for many communities devasted by economic factors in the recent past. It’s called Community Wealth Building, and is a big, bold idea with its democratic roots in America. I believe it will be the model to raise the phoenix from the ashes with regard to our local communities.


Community Wealth Building


The basic premise of Community Wealth Building, is to avoid local economy cash from flowing out of the local community. Sounds simple, but think about it. Every time you buy a Starbucks coffee, your cash flows out of your community. In fact, it pretty much flows out of the country too. It’s the same when you buy a gift online from a company like Amazon. Local cash vanishes out of your local area. We all kind of know this, but most of us don’t do much about it.


Now, also consider related jobs to, let’s say a coffee chain. Shop re-fit – that will be contractors from out of your area. Roof repair – same thing. Cake? – No local baker is cooking that. The price you pay is far higher than the actual currency. Your local economy is literally being milked. And once the money flows out, wages get lower, infrastructure begins to suffer and it’s a downward spiral. Something we are all well aware of in my local community, Streatham.


I don’t profess to be an expert (yet) but I’d like to point you to one of many articles for further reading. It will open your eyes, and possibly even compel you to campaign to re-build the community you live in.


The once depressed area in England, Preston, took the bold and visionary step to build their community wealth after realising their local economy wasn’t actually benefitting their community. And the transformation has been astounding. It will be very interesting to see how they emerge from this epidemic compared to other communities in the UK. You can read about the transformation here:

https://bit.ly/PrestonCaseStudy

Brian Storey is Co-Founder of start-up Community App SavviVille, and MD of Kapow Network, a series of community info screens in South London.