Community Wealth Creation through Responsible Innovation

Underlying the conception of the Build Back Rural project has been an awareness that if we are ever to see homes built in Scotland’s remote rural communities that are genuinely affordable and sustainable - and for these communities to prosper - a very large step change is required to address issues relating to land ownership, affordable finance for construction and the actual construction technologies applied. These three ostensibly separate factors are in fact umbilically linked and whilst positive progress on the first of them is currently over-dependent on a very slow-to-change legislative environment, the other two are open to alternative approaches, presuming we are prepared to explore them. A large part of of the challenge involved is to demonstrate not only their efficacy but also their capacity to be applied in widely differing community structures. The particular approach taken in the Build Back Rural project is to identify innovative ways to overcome the land purchase and ownership issues by integrating it with the construction finance question and a well-developed (but, so far, rarely used in the UK), method of construction ideally suited to rural product manufacture. Previous journal posts have referred to the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals and, in applying these, to focus in on the ‘five capitals’ model for sustainability, being the natural, human and social capitals as well as the conventional measures for development - the manufactured and economic capital created. Effecting the combination of these criteria may seem a tall order but all of the elements of the build-back-better proposition already exist, aside from the mobile dowel lamination press with which to manufacture solid timber panels.

UN Sustainable Development Goals

This is where the project’s specific innovation lies (the general innovation lies in the ‘taking the factory to the forest’ concept) - the development of a portable machine that utilises well tried and tested dowel lamination manufacturing technology at a reduced scale. As mentioned above, constructing buildings from dowel laminated timber panels is a relatively unknown technique in the UK but, with more than 20 factories located across Austria, Germany, Italy and Switzerland, their manufacture is a known process, as is the completion of many residential buildings using this method. A principle reason why we have not seen more than a handful of dowel laminated timber structures in the UK has been the cost of importation, but the lack of awareness and construction experience of DLT have also been critical disincentives. Such manufacture as has taken place in the UK has been both sporadic and time-consuming as the production technique applied has relied on manual joinery skills. The automation existing in the larger European manufacturing plants has enabled glue-free, dimensionally stable, durable panels to be fabricated to the same high standards as exist for CLT and it is this technology that the Build Back Better project seeks to adapt in a scaled-down design for the dowel lamination press. The process being pursued for the DLT press follows guidance contained in the recently published PAS440:2020 - Responsible Innovation, together with BS ISO 26000 - Guidance on Social Responsibility and ISO 56000 - Innovation Management. The various goals highlighted above will be addressed through the application of this structured development framework (about which more in a future journal post) and always with a clear eye on this part of the projects role in delivering the eventual prize - community wealth creation.

ISO 26000 guidance

Community Wealth Building may be a phrase unfamiliar to many, but it is the name given to a relatively new, people-centred approach to local economic development that is intended to redirect wealth back into the local economy, and which places control and benefits into the hands of local people. Community wealth building is thus a response to the contemporary challenges of austerity, finance and anonymous automation. It seeks to provide resilience where there is risk and local economic security where there is precarity: the very factors that detrimentally affect the continued existence of remote rural communities. Five key principles underpin the concept of Community Wealth Building:

  1. Plural ownership of the economy

  2. Making financial power work for local places

  3. Fair employment and just labour markets

  4. Progressive procurement of goods and services

  5. Socially productive use of land and property

Throughout this website, the project’s aspiration to respond to each of these principles is alluded to, but it is in their combination with the sustainability goals and the structured innovation process described above that they will be delivered. Taking the factor to the forest is the means to Build Back Rural and, in doing so, provide the homes and facilities necessary to give remote rural communities a viable, sustainable future.

local, national and international impacts