Ford Bridgend: Beyond the factory gates

The Bridgend plant is earmarked for closure in 2020, with the loss of 1,700 jobs. Credit: PA

By Carole Green, Correspondent

As Ford workers come to terms with the news the engine plant is closing next year, Bridgend and the wider community will need to find new ways to replace the 1,700 jobs lost.

The closure is part of a trend which has seen Wales lose 13,000 manufacturing jobs over the last decade. Ford will leave a big gap to fill. Another 3,000 livelihoods depend on the car giant, which has pumped £3bn pounds into the local area over the last ten years. The vast site and its skilled workforce will be marketed worldwide - but does the answer for economic renewal lie closer to home?

I’ve been to Preston in Lancashire to find out how it’s leading its own recovery. Like many parts of Wales, one in three schoolchildren in Preston in 2012 were below the breadline. It had the highest suicide rate in England. As the recession hit, key investors pulled out of the city. At the same time, the local authority was facing unprecedented cuts to its budgets. The city had to use its own imagination and resources to save itself - and the Preston Model was born.

Like many communities in Wales, the Lancashire city has faced economic hardship. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Read: Ford says employees 'did everything right' but 1,700 jobs go at Bridgend plant

The council leader says it’s common sense economics.

Matthew Brown, Leader, Preston City Council. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

A lot of inward investment is attracted more to central London, than it is to Wales or Preston. So we’ve really got to take control in our own way and in a positive way for people.

Matthew Brown, Leader, Preston City Council

That's 1,600 jobs created not by a foreign inward investor, but by looking closer to home. The drive has been led by the public and not the private sector.

It’s all about procurement - where Preston spends its tens of millions of pounds of public money. So the goods and services its communities rely on every day are bought in from local firms. Where possible, public contracts are awarded locally too. Now there are signs the city is finding a new confidence.

Neil McInroy, Centre for Local Economic Strategies. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Lots of those big institutions like the police, the local authority, the hospitals, the colleges... they buy a whole gamut of things. Think about all the things a hospital will buy - beds, bandages, all those sorts of things. Can we think about how their purchasing is actually supporting the local economy, local firms, local social enterprises, local community businesses? That’s what’s been proven in Preston - through those small acts of change in those institutions. What they buy creates a big effect, in terms of supporting businesses, and then of course businesses get the contracts of providing goods and services... they can employ more people.

Neil McInroy, Centre for Local Economic Strategies.

The 'thinking and supporting local' approach means Kay Johnson's cafe is part of a rent-free council scheme for new co-operatives - businesses owned by their workers. They’re being encouraged to take root in the city centre. Kay's cafe goes further, sourcing all its ingredients on the doorstep. It's having a real impact - keeping wealth in Preston.

Cafe owner and food co-operative founder Kay Johnson believes in supporting local suppliers. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Just to give you an example... cauliflowers. We’ve got a fantastic cauliflower farmer down the road who I think grows the best cauliflowers, and quite often I think 70% of his cauliflowers go out of Lancashire - and depending on price, our cauliflowers come from places like France. We don’t think that makes sense. So we are buying cauliflowers locally. We try to do that with everything we can here.

Kay Johnson, cafe owner and food co-operative founder

There’s still an appetite and a need for inward investment here, because Preston’s own resources can’t fill all the economic gaps. However, by keeping the focus local for the everyday things we need and use, more money stays in the city.

In Wales it has been called the Foundation Economy, covering food, retail, care and tourism. The idea is to work alongside - not replace - direct foreign investment. Preston’s next step is to establish a regional bank - here Wales is ahead, with the Development Bank Of Wales already up and running.

The Preston Model is not just about economics - it also asks questions around identity: who we are, what makes a place and how we shape our own future in the age of globalisation.

Preston’s a very ordinary place, but its champions say it’s now making extraordinary strides forward. Ruth Heritage was born and brought up here. She says it was a bleak place in the 1980s and like many youngsters she left and headed to London.

Ruth Heritage, Creative Director at They Eat Culture. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

When I was growing up, Preston’s claim to fame was Preston bus station, Europe’s second largest bus station. Also, the Preston bypass was the first bit of motorway in the UK. And we are the home of Britain's first Kentucky Fried Chicken branch.

Ruth Heritage, Creative Director at They Eat Culture

Ruth has come full circle back up that motorway. She’s now living in Preston and has founded They Eat Culture. She works with and in local communities, raising their voices, confidence and aspirations through grassroots art and culture.

Culture is something that brings communities together. It makes a place exciting and vibrant. So for the Preston Model, it is all about keeping it local and building an attractive place to live for Prestonians and a cohesive community where we are healthy and well and highly involved in our city. Culture can help us come together and achieve that.

Ruth Heritage
Could the Preston Model be the key to Bridgend's future? Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Preston’s self-help plan was born out of necessity. What began as an economic survival strategy is now a new model all of its own. Preston doesn’t have all the answers, but some argue Bridgend and Wales could learn lessons from this northern trailblazer.

You can watch Wales This Week: Beyond the Factory Gates on Monday at 8:00pm on ITV Cymru Wales, or catch up on the ITV Wales programmes page.