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COVID-19 RESPONSE

Big River Bakery, Teesside A community bakery supporting refugees in Middlesbrough

Big River Bakery is a social enterprise that seeks to create a system where quality local food is available and affordable to all. In partnership with Teesside University, it seeks to launch a new bakery creating a safe, welcoming place where refugees are empowered through work experience and training opportunities, whilst providing the local community with the best freshly baked bread.

Big River Bakery Teesside will be based within Teesside University’s start-up incubator, which is situated right on the University campus and in the heart of the local community. Although primarily for refugees, the bakery will also reach out to other disadvantaged groups in the local area.

Big River Bakery was established in the North East in 2013, with a focus on developing community led initiatives that build a sustainable and equitable food economy at a local level. At its bakery in Shieldfield - Newcastle, it runs a baking and barista themed employability programme for local people furthest from the job market, as well as providing employment for people with disabilities.

The short-term aim of the Teesside bakery is to be a central hub for community bake days, courses in bread making, along with producing baked goods for local communities and running a subscription-based bread service. It aims to provide regular baking experience opportunities for at least 10 refugees, along with qualifications and training opportunities. The project will benefit from being immersed within a diverse, collaborative space with access to people with different types of business knowledge and skills, whilst Teesside University’s start-up platform will benefit from having a social enterprise within it. This cross pollination of cultures and ideas seeks to create value which goes well beyond that of simply baking bread.

Anna Lewis from Open Door North East described how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted refugees and asylum seekers in the region:

“Our clients would benefit greatly from the safe provision of community space and meaningful activity. Our clients often and clearly express their desire to work whilst seeking asylum (asylum seekers are not permitted to work) and to gain experiences that will enable them to be ‘work ready’ once they have been successful in their asylum claim. Covid has limited volunteering opportunities, which are invaluable to language acquisition, feeling of well-being and being a valued member of society.”

With support from the Badur Foundation, the team have purchased core equipment for the bakery, which aims to launch in Spring 2021 (dependent on COVID-19). In the longer term, Big River Bakery Teesside aims to move out of the University’s Launchpad into a commercial space, where it will continue to operate as a fully functioning community bakery.