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Expert’s view on economic rejuvenation model

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More vibrant: the English city of Preston has benefited from worker-owned co-operatives helping to rejuvenate its economy. Julian Manley, chairman of the Preston Cooperative Development Network, will be the speaker at a free event in Hamilton this evening (Photograph by Andrew Gritt/Wikipedia)

A community-centred economic rejuvenation model that is transforming a city in northern England could provide a springboard for Bermuda to try similar ideas.

That is a hope of a strategist who will this evening give a free presentation in Hamilton about what has happened in recent years in Preston, a city near Liverpool and Manchester.

Julian Manley, a research fellow at the University of Central Lancashire, in Preston, will describe and explain some of the ideas that have proved to be successful for the city and in other places around the world that have similar rejuvenation models.

He hopes that Bermuda will reflect on the ideas and possibly adapt some that will fit with the island’s culture and its way of doing things.

The event, titled “An Evening with Dr Julian Manley”, takes place at St Paul’s Centennial Hall and is staged by the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation in conjunction with the Global Entrepreneurship Week.

Worker-owned co-operatives are at the heart of what has been termed the “Preston Model”. It is seen as a way of tackling inequality and keeping profits local.

In Preston, a number of “anchor institutions,” such as local government administrations, hospital, police and the university, were encouraged to buy from local business as much as possible, and to spend less elsewhere.

Speaking with The Royal Gazette, Dr Manley said: “The anchor institutions have been giving us information that has enabled us to understand the gaps in the local economy. They tell us they can no longer buy this product or that service because there are no local providers. So we have been able to identify gaps in the local economy.”

As a result, the Preston Co-operative Development Network identified gaps in the local economy.

Giving an example of how that worked Dr Manley, who is chairman of the Preston-based network, said: “One of the gaps was catering. So we supported the creation of a catering organisation called The Larder. There are ten or 12 members, and they are a worker-owned co-operative. They will be providing catering and they will also be opening a healthy, sustainable food café, and run a culinary cooking academy.

“They are filling a gap in the local economy. That is a great example of what we need; by increasing local wealth, developing local jobs, making sure they are supported by the development network and doing that ethically and democratically through a worker-owned co-operative.”

Dr Manley said the co-operatives work within the capital economy and have to compete with other businesses. However, co-operatives within the network do not compete with one another.

“Some people have said it sounds like protectionism, but it really isn’t. The majority of the business that is being repatriated to Preston is coming from London and the southeast of England, where 40 per cent of the national economy is focused,” said Dr Manley.

“When you do that, you are redistributing the economy, you are sharing the economy around the country in a more equitable way.”

Dr Manley said it encourages local business, increases local competition, increases a sense of civic pride, citizenship and has made Preston a more interesting a vibrant place.

Another perceived benefit is that it encourages people, such as skilled workers and graduates, to settle in the city rather than seek opportunities elsewhere.

As another example, he spoke about how art graduates from the university had, with the help of the local government authority, set up the Birley Art Studios as a co-operative, rather than being forced to move away from the city to find such facilities and resources.

“Those graduates are now contributing to the culture of Preston, and it is not just about money, it is about the social transformation and the cultural transformation. We now have an active, vibrant artistic community in Preston that we did not have before.”

The Preston Model is a “roots up” way of rejuvenating a local economy in an “authentic and sustainable” way, Dr Manley said. He noted there are other templates in places such as Ohio and Spain that use different approaches.

When asked if he thought Bermuda could benefit from the type of thing that has happened in Preston, Dr Manley noted that the island all ready has “a very strong feeling of community and working together, knowing each other. There is a big relational aspect — people know each other and know how to get on and work together”.

He feels that there are clear economic possibilities, such as the growing market for renewable energy, which he said was perfect for creating co-operatives with renewable energy.

A further positive for Bermuda is its ability to give a level of support to start-up co-operatives that “maybe in some places there wouldn’t be”.

Dr Manley is the author of the new book Social Dreaming, Associate Thinking and Intensities of Affect. In a statement, the BEDC said that at this evening’s event he will present “on the social dreaming matrix as a tool to harness the power of a community’s voice”.

Dr Manley said: “I’m presenting some of the ideas that brought about some of the successes in Preston, and talking about some of the other models, to give an overview of what worked and why.

“Then it is up to the people in Bermuda to take that on board and reflect upon it and then to adapt, accept or reject whatever I can offer on behalf of the Preston co-operative.”

He added: “Each place is different and will have its own culture and way of doing things, and just because it worked in this way in Preston does not mean it will work in that way in Bermuda. So these are all ideas that can be reflected up and adapted, hopefully.”

The public event will take place between 6pm and 8.30pm, at St Paul’s Centennial Hall, Hamilton. Admission is free. Reply to BEDC, Sofia House, Hamilton, or e-mail http://bit.ly/rsvpgew, or reception@bedc.bm, or call 292-5570. Refreshments will be served

Preston model expert: Julian Manley will speak in Hamilton this evening (Photograph supplied)