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 trialed a bakery model which aimed to create a safe place where people are empowered through training opportunities, whilst providing the local community with the best freshly baked bread.
Big River Bakery (Teesside) was 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 aimed at refugees, the bakery also reached out to other disadvantaged groups in the local area to provide training opportunities.
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 was 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 provided regular baking experience opportunities for at least 10 people, along with qualifications and training opportunities.
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 purchased core equipment for the bakery, which launched in Spring 2021 during a challenging period due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately the bakery could not continue to operate at the University site and in 2023, the equipment continues to be utilised at Big River Bakery’s Shieldfield site. A longer-term aim is still to replicate the bakery model in other locations in the North East - including a community bakery in Teesside.