Over the past decade we’ve formed a regular group of committed bakers. As our skills increased, so did the quality and range of bread we produced. We had the idea to start selling. The bread tasted just as good as bread sold at local markets or bakeries, so we took the plunge and became a co-operative in 2019. Our goal was to sell to local businesses such as cafes and restaurants, but also to individual subscribers. Our main priority was to generate an income, in addition to the baking sessions, and provide members with a paid role and skill.
Becoming a co-operative was positive, but daunting. We received invaluable help from Co-operatives UK. To become a co-operative, we had to complete many processes, such as setting up a core group; members who took on official roles and responsibilities so we were in the best position to manage ourselves. We also had to learn the legal responsibilities of operating a business.
A brand-new kitchen and micro bakery
We wanted to bake bread in larger quantities so a bigger kitchen was essential. In 2018 we partnered with Vivo Care Choices, who offered us the use of the kitchen at their Canal Street Day centre. Vivo paid for the refurbishment and we also received grant money from local charities to pay for equipment.
In 2019 the new kitchen was installed – one that Vivo and ourselves are very proud of. Funding from Cheshire West and Chester Council meant that we could employ a part time Project Manager and Head Baker to help develop our micro bakery. People who also access the day centre services also use the kitchen for cookery lessons.
Setting up the new kitchen was costly and a big learning curve for us. When all the equipment was installed, we had to learn to use it. This didn’t come without hiccups but by early 2020 we were ready to bake bread to sell.
Deciding on the range of products to offer was great fun and we loved testing different recipes; we made bread rolls, ciabatta, focaccia, loaves, enriched breads, middle eastern breads – all reliable recipes from our community baking sessions but altered to perfection under the guidance of our head baker.
A rota was put in place so bakers could take part when they were free, and we agreed to bake every Friday.
Support from local organisations was critical to our success. Chester Cathedral let us use their reception as a bread collection point, local charities continued to provide us with grants and our two main partners, Vivo Care Choices and The Wesley Centre continued to provide invaluable practical support. We networked and promoted ourselves where ever we could, at one point taking samples of our bread to cafes and restaurants. We were thrilled when a local cafe took regular bread orders.