Case Study: Handmade Bakery

Therapy in a warm paper bag: community supported baking:


Though the term ‘local shop for local people’ became a comedy catchphrase, we should not forget the many values that the exchange of goods and services between members of a community have. 


Competition from ever larger, out of town supermarkets and shopping complexes continues to contribute to the closure of high street bakeries and many other local businesses, destroying local economies. In its wake, this decimation leaves not only unemployment but also ‘food deserts’ that is to say areas in which there is no supply of fresh food (or even food at all) within walking distance.  This has the greatest impact on people who are economically less advantaged or of reduced mobility – often those most in need of good food.

Some of the most interesting oases of Real Bread that have sprung up in such deserts blur the divides typical in the prevalent producer/retailer/customer model. One example is The Handmade Bakery, the brainchild of Dan and Johanna McTiernan. Together with baker Matt Betts, they are pioneering community supported baking in Marsden, West Yorkshire.


Their idea to find a way of bringing Real Bread to their town came about after having a child.  As Dan and Johanna began to meet other new families, the appalling state of factory loaves, the only stuff available in the area, often came up in conversation. The resulting unofficial bread club started among friends received such a good response that the McTiernans decided to find a way of making their Real Bread available to the whole of the community.
Though Johanna had been used to communal baking as a child in Finland and Dan had received a baking course at River Cottage one Christmas, neither had any professional experience.  This did not hold them in good stead when speaking to the banks from which the necessary backing to start a high street bakery was not forthcoming.


It was at this point that they had the brainwave of coming to an arrangement with a local Italian restaurant, whose stone-bottomed pizza oven lay dormant except at dinnertime.  Deciding to base their business on a model borrowed from Community Supported Agriculture, Dan and Johanna set up a subscription system in which people commit to buying bread for one, three, six or twelve months at a time. 


These upfront payments help with The Handmade Bakery’s cashflow and virtually eliminate food wastage through over production. In return, subscribers receive a discount that gets greater with the length of commitment, not to mention a convenient supply of fresh, delicious, all-natural Real Bread.  Further reciprocal benefits between the bakery and community include the extra business generated for the local pub from which subscribers collect their loaves twice a week and local volunteers who receive bread and skills training in return for their time.
From the start, the response has been overwhelming. Dan says:
“We didn't expect for people to be quite as excited about the bread as they have been. Sometimes it feels almost like we're providing therapy in a warm paper bag.”


Soon, The Handmade Bakery started opening the restaurant on Saturday mornings as a bread shop for non-subscribers and supplying seven shops, three mini-markets run by local co-operatives, a few cafes and restaurants, making Real Bread accessible to more people.


At the time of writing, the success of The Handmade Bakery is allowing Dan and Johanna to move into their own premises, enabling them to equip it specifically for the needs of their business.  It also means that they will no longer have to weigh down, mix dough and store their equipment at home or cart it back and forth for each bake.  


Future plans to embed The Handmade Bakery even more firmly in the local food economy include supplying bread to a vegetable box delivery scheme, bartering bread with people who have gluts of fruit and veg for use as ingredients and launching bread bonds, whereby interest payments on investments in the bakery are paid in bread.


The Real Bread Campaign is keen to encourage just this sort of community-focussed enterprise and believes that the McTiernan’s example is one from which others can learn and benefit.  The last word goes to Dan:


“The network of beneficial relationships we've established between other businesses and within the community has meant that money is not the deciding factor. Good will and the wish to see a real bakery back in the community is a real driving force!”

Making Local Food Work has been advising The Handmade Bakery through the Enterprise Support project.


The Real Bread Campaign, lead by MLFW partner Sustain, aims to make real bread from small producers, rather than mass-produced, adulterated bread from a handful of manufacturers, available to people across Britain.  www.realbreadcampaign.org

You can find more information on The Handmade Bakery at www.thehandmadebakery.coop



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