Introducing ASIRT

For the third quarter of this year we’re raising money for ASIRT, a small Birmingham-based charity that helps people in dire need of help due to their immigration status.

We asked Fiona at ASIRT to write about the work they do and how the money you raise will be used.

ASIRT (the Asylum and Immigration Resource Team) work to alleviate destitution caused by immigration issues. Many of our clients have no access to public funds, some are homeless, and where people have support it is minimal. For all of them, the underlying cause of this vulnerability is issues around their immigration status. Our clients often live in poor housing conditions, are without resources, have associated health conditions and are extremely vulnerable.

ASIRT’s specialist immigration advisers work on the core issue of regularising status, while ensuring that clients are accessing the support they are entitled to. Making sure people have a roof over their head and food on the table are primary concerns, particularly for our families. We advocate with schools, landlords, children’s services and other providers, and apply for funding for our clients’ basic needs.

The children we work with are some of the most deprived in the region. Many come from families who have no recourse to public funds and are supported by the local authority. This support gives a minimal payment to parents, and pays for temporary accommodation. Many of these children are entitled to British citizenship but their families are not able to pay the fees, which currently stand at £1,012. Often this means several children sharing a room with their parent(s), and not having access to cooking or washing facilities.

CW is originally from Nigeria — she has three children, two of whom are entitled to British Citizenship. She fled her abusive partner after he attacked one of her twins, but because she has no current immigration status, she cannot work, claim benefits or access hospital care. She and her three children are living in one room of a bed and breakfast. She is only able to use the kitchen at an allocated time, and the washing machine once a week. Unfortunately, the little boy still wets the bed at night, so this is very difficult to manage. The twins cannot access school lunches, and have very little money to spend on school uniforms, let alone luxuries. They have missed most of their schooling during the pandemic due to the fact that they have no internet access.

This family is, sadly, typical of our client group. Many of our children live with mothers fleeing domestic violence and with no recourse to public funds, leaving them destitute or at risk of returning to abusive relationships.

For single people there is not even this safety net, and many of them are sofa-surfing, sleeping on the streets, or in exploitative working situations.

We are currently focused on raising money for our hardship fund, which gives one-off grants to people for essential needs or to bridge a gap in support.

  • £45 pays for accommodation for a night before alternative support kicks in.
  • £30 covers food and other necessities such as nappies for a family of four over the weekend.
  • £30 for the train fare to London to get a new passport.
  • £40 – £70 to replace a passport.
  • £20 pays for a copy of a birth certificate.

Every penny that is donated to this fund will go straight to our clients to help them either meet their basic needs, or gain the necessary documentation to regularise their immigration status.

You can make a donation with your online pre-order or at the counter at our shop.

Farewell Valentina!

When Val is not at Loaf she works as a musicologist. A few months ago she was awarded a fellowship to research archiving post-1960s music where written traces and recordings are insufficient to guarantee adequate conservation. This means she’ll be working for the next couple of years in Canada before finishing her research tenure in Birmingham.

Val’s final day is Saturday 14th August. She’s insistent that this be seen as a sabbatical and is determined to return in 2023, when she will be welcomed back with open arms.


Val says:

“Hello everyone. I would like to thank you for your kindness over these last two years. It has been a pleasure to meet you all. Working at Loaf made me extremely happy every single day of work. Considering that three-quarters of my time at Loaf was during a global pandemic, I think it is really something special and I hope it tells you what an incredible place Loaf is.

“Even though I am leaving to do something I am very passionate about, I am also looking forward to being back working with my Loaf co-workers and to meet you all again. I wish you all the best things and a lot of good treats!

“As for me, I have no idea how I will survive without my fix of pain au chocolat… please send over recommendations for good bakeries in Ottawa! While away, I will try my best not to be a stranger. In the meantime, before I fly off later in the year, I’ll see you all in line, as fellow customers!“

We will miss Val terribly. She’s been a rock and a light throughout a very weird year. We wish her well and look forward to her return!

A Day in the Loaf

There is one week left to apply to join us here at Loaf! For those curious about what the job might entail, Nancy tells us what happened on her Thursday shift working in the shop.

I start my shift at 9am and, first things first, have a coffee. Today I had a lovely cold one that Phil had prepared in the bakery, early doors. It does get warm in here in the summer but caffeine is still a priority for me. Next I prep the shop area, making sure everything is clean and tidy and all the equipment and utensils we’ll need are ready. We have a few hours before we open to our customers — time to make lunches, prepare our filled croissants and get any pre-orders ready. Today we are serving mushroom and aubergine curry and a summer squash pizza. Yum! 

I’m also on hand to help the baker should they need it. When it’s so warm, sometimes all the doughs and pastries are ready at once and an extra pair of hands helps to keep everything in check. 

I pack away any deliveries which have arrived and check we have everything we will need for tomorrow either available or on order. I have a look at the email and social media to deal with any queries and post some pictures of today’s offerings from the bakery. Then I grab a bite to eat and a bit of a sit before it’s ‘go time’.

At 12 o’clock, we open the doors and usually have a good couple of hours of steady visits from our friendly customers. We are lucky to have lots of long-term customers who we have got to know over the years; it’s nice to see familiar as well as new faces when you’re working. By two o’clock the rush has died down. It’s now time to start cleaning and thinking about what needs doing for the next day, alongside serving customers. At this point in the day we also check in with each other, making a round of tea or, in this weather, reminding each other to drink water.

The rest of the day is taken up by prepping lunch and sweets for the next day, cleaning and doing hygiene admin tasks. I also add some products that need re-stocking to our order list and put a couple of points on the agenda for the next team meeting before it’s time to close the shop. I pack up a loaf of bread or two to take home – one of the perks of the job!

Loaf is the UK Worker Co-op of the Year!

A couple of months ago we were told that Beccy from The Active Wellbeing Society had nominated us for the Co-op of the Year awards. Throughout April we canvassed for the popular vote and then in June a panel judged us by a criteria known only to them. And on Wednesday the result was formally announced. 

We won! 

Because there’s no ceremony this year we recorded a short acceptance video. 

The award arrived last week and we’ve been displaying it with pride.

There’s also a nice casestudy on the Co-operatives UK website

Thanks to everyone who voted. It’s great to be recognised not just for what we do but for how we do it. 

Is the family farm the best farm?

In the world of baking you hear a lot of talk about ‘tradition’, particularly in contrast to the post-war industrial processes that dominate breadmaking today. But tradition can be an insidious thing, its origins obscured by the mists of history. Despite feeling right and proper, reverting to the traditional option isn’t necessarily what’s best.

Landed, the current Farmarama podcast series, is written and presented by Col Gordon whose grandfather rented, and then bought, a farm in the Scottish Highlands. Having grown up there, and recently returned to co-run his inheritance, he’s convinced family farms pave the way to an agroecological future  “in which rural areas are alive with culture, many more people work on the land, farms operate in sympathy with nature, and nutritious food is available to everyone in society”.

Progress is slow and he’s not sure he’s making much of a difference in the face of ‘Big Agro’. And then the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 happen. Like many people with more than a modicum of privilege he finds himself questioning a lot of things he’d taken for granted. In reading about BLM he comes across the phrase “the family farm is a colonial concept” which throws him, along with the discovery that the family farm tradition in the Highlands is only a few generations old. Prior to this, farms were run very differently. What if the family farm is actually part of the problem and there’s a better way to do things? 

We’ll have to wait to find out the answer as this is just part one, but it’s a really intriguing start and raises some pertinent and maybe difficult questions for those working to fix the food chain. We’ll be following with interest! 

If you’re new to Farmarama be sure and check out Cereal, their previous series on the Real Bread Campaign.

Wayne Caddy, the baker’s baker

On Monday, Phil will be attending a two-day ciabatta and baguette course run by Wayne Caddy. ‘Chibs’ and ‘bags’ are breads we’re generally happy with but always felt we could do better or at least more interestingly, so when this quite specific course came up we felt it was a good investment. Phil will be taking extensive notes and his newfound knowledge will spread through the team and into the bakery and the bread course. 

Wayne Caddy is a baker’s baker. As well as winning awards for his bread he’s a teacher and communicator, teaching at Sheffield’s School of Artisan Food and consulting as The Essential Baker

For the more casual bread aficionado, his Instagram account is a lovely mix of delicious photography and practical advice. These angel wings are a great case in point. They look incredible but in the comments he explains how simple they were to make. 

Like many teachers who found themselves unable to teach last year, he started a YouTube channel. Among the usual lessons he has a couple of examples of what we might call ‘advanced bread scoring’ by Rosie McCarthy, carving intricate drawings in the dough that reveal themselves upon baking. All bakers develop a knack and style for this, but these are next level.

Thoughts on co-ops for Co-op Fortnight

To mark Co-op Fortnight, Pete talks about his personal journey learning about the co-operative movement since joining Loaf. Is it just a way of running a business, or is there more to it? 

Did you know we’re halfway through Co-op Fortnight? It’s when the co-operative movement celebrates its history, looks to its future and generally promotes the model of working co-operatively.

If you knew nothing of co-ops except as a chain of supermarkets, this might seem rather strange, but even if you know co-ops are more than that, celebrating a business model is still a little odd. You don’t see Limited Liability Week or Sole Proprietorship Day. What’s so special about co-operatives?

Loaf is constituted as a worker co-operative. We’re all directors of the company and get paid the same wage with the same ultimate responsibilities. There is no owner or boss of Loaf — we all are, equally. After I joined in 2018, I became fascinated with the co-operative movement. It struck me as not just a very efficient way to run a business, spreading the work and rewards equally across all members, but also a very rewarding one. Having spent my much of my working life salaried or freelancing for organisations I had no say in running, it was a bit of a shock and took some navigating.

Since then I’ve been finding out more about co-ops. Working on our forthcoming new building, which itself will be a run as a co-op of co-ops, brought me closer to our future neighbours Birmingham Bike Foundry and Artefact. While they follow the same principles, they operate quite differently from Loaf. Then, as the upper floors will be residential, I had a crash course in housing co-ops, which can range from the UK’s deliciously gnarly Radical Routes to millionaire apartment blocks in New York. (Safe to say our building will lean towards the former model!)

Meanwhile at Loaf, the last 15 months have caused us to consider what it means for us to be a co-op. Like so many pre-pandemic things that just seemed to work, we probably took it a bit for granted. But with our business thrown into turmoil and the future uncertain we found ourselves leaning heavily on the co-operative values to guide our decisions.

In April this year, while waiting for the new oven to be installed, we held our first quarterly planning meeting. The pandemic didn’t just shake us out of our complacency — it caused us to look at everything we do and why we do it. We discussed every stage of the bakery, from sourcing ingredients to how we sell, and every aspect of the cookery school, drawing out the core values that we want to guide us. We also each said what we wanted Loaf to be and why that was important to us. 

Being a group of opinionated individuals we all had different ideas and visions, but interestingly that doesn’t seem to be a problem. Being a co-op means we work to accommodate the needs and desires of all members, finding a unique common path that might actually surprise us. 

At the end of the day we went through the co-op movement’s values and principles, seeing how Loaf measured up. We’re achieving some better than others and there’s certainly room for growth and improvement, but nothing feels alien or wrong. It’s all stuff we want to do and that we can see the value, socially and economically, in doing. 

This week I remotely attended Co-op Congress, the annual meeting of UK co-operatives with speakers from across the country. The theme this year was the role the co-op sector can play in rebuilding the economy, specifically on a community and local level. The general gist, as you might imagine, was that there should be more co-ops, because co-ops are great, and there was a lot of the sort of boosterism you’d expect from a flagship event like this. 

But I also learned some really interesting stuff. Stretford Public Hall was in a similar state to Stirchley Baths and was similarly saved by local campaigning, but in this case the locals run it as a co-op. Sheffield’s Ownership Hub is actively pushing co-ops and employee ownership with support of the mayor. We’ve talked of our new building being a catalyst for new co-ops so maybe this is a model for that. Finally I learned the Co-operative College exists, run as a co-op, but also basing its learning model on co-op principles. 

This last one made me think about our cookery school which has been run in a fairly traditional teacher/student manner for the last decade. It works, of course, but it’s not the only way to communicate our knowledge and we’ve been looking to broaden our approach. What would a bread course taught co-operatively look like?

Finally, while watching a slideshow inbetween the panels, I spotted Leeds Bread Co-op who, judging from this video, could easily be Loaf in a parallel universe. Their business is different, of course, but their testimonials of working in a co-op rang true. It was heartening to know that we’re not an outlier — there are others like us out there in the bread industry, with potential for more. 

Phil visited Leeds Bread Co-op a few years ago, before I started. It would be good to firm up that relationship again, to see what we can learn from each other, and to reach out to other food co-ops across the country and around the world. Together we are stronger, and all that. 

For me personally, this feels like the start of a journey, one I wasn’t expecting to take as I approach my 50s. When I’m not working at Loaf I have an art practice. During the lockdowns I was involved in the founding of Walkspace, an artists collective which I’m very keen should be run on co-operative principles. I also got quite obsessed with composting at my wife’s allotment and am using the co-op principles to sketch out how a community composting scheme might work for the businesses and residents of Stirchley. Watch this space for that one. 

The co-op movement can sometimes feel like a bandwagon, the hip way to run a business like all the cool kids are doing these days. But it’s worth remembering Stirchley has a long history of co-operatives, starting with TASCOS in 1875. This is not a flash in the pan — it’s a toolkit, a system for bringing people together to produce something that couldn’t exist otherwise, to the benefit of all involved. 

If you’re co-op curious and would like to talk to us about whether it can work for you, please do get in touch. If we can’t help we doubtless know someone who can. Ultimately, if you like what we do and wonder how we do it, this is a major reason why. We’re a co-op because it works.

Ragu Time!

In a couple of weeks, on Sunday 27th June, we’ll be running a special takeaway of fresh pasta dishes, prepared for you to cook at home. Here’s what’s on offer!

Meaty lasagna: Mamma Franca’s ragù (see below) made with organic beef and pork from Rossiters butchers in Bournville, layered with fresh handmade spinach pasta, béchamel sauce and Parmesan cheese. Serves two (£12) or four (£24).

Vegan lasagne: vegan ragù made green lentils, tomato sauce and mushrooms layered with fresh handmade vegan semolina pasta, vegan béchamel sauce and nutritional yeast. Serves two (£10) or four (£20). **

Meaty ragù & tagliatelle: Mamma Franca’s ragù with Rossiters’ organic beef and pork. Served with fresh handmade spinach tagliatelle. Serves one (£5.50).

Vegan ragù & vegan tagliatelle: fresh pasta made with semolina flour and vegan ragù made with green lentils, tomato sauce, mushrooms and vegan béchamel sauce. Serves one (£4.50).

Pistachio or chocolate cannoli: a tube-shaped fried pastry shell filled with sweetened ricotta. £3 each.

The secret origins of Ragù Time…

A sauce is what makes a pasta dish memorable, and every recipe has its own secrets!

Mamma Franca, the Italian mother of Phil’s partner, graciously lent us her delicious authentic recipe. The vegan ragù meanwhile is a Valentina special inspired by Betti Taglietti, a vegan cook campaigning for inclusion of affordable and vegan options to school pupils and workers.

The pasta itself has been developed over the last few months by Val and Phil who had been working together on the food bank donation bakes. Sharing a passion for pasta, sorely missing from Loaf since the pandemic cancelled our classes, they got talking and worked on some recipes.

A big challenge was perfecting really good vegan pasta and we hope you agree that they’ve cracked it!

We haven’t done a series of pop-ups for a while but with the popularity of Lap’s sausages last December, not to mention the fun we had running it, we all agreed a pasta night was in order.

Molly, our sweets guru, joined in with some cannoli – shells of fried pastry dough, filled with a sweet, creamy ricotta filling – to top it all off and we were ready to go!

As we get closer to re-opening the cookery school we’ll be rehearsing the recipes and sharpening our skills so expect more takeaway nights, particularly from Lap and Hassan. Stay tuned!

Staff Picks

This week we thought we’d share some of the Loaf-related things we’ve been reading and watching and otherwise enjoying on the internet. Hopefully you’ll find something of interest below.

Food banking insights

This interview with the CEO of the Trussell Trust is a fascinating look into the scale of the food bank operation in this country and the conflict of being proud of achieving something that shouldn’t have been necessary in the first place.

StirchleyGrams

Birds of Stirchley – A dad and his son are trying to photograph and identify all the different birds in and around Stirchley. There are more than you’d think.

Pavement Plants of Stirchley – You may have noticed a botanist has been chalking local pavements with the names of weeds and other unloved plants, drawing attention to the flora by our feet. No idea who this guerrilla taxonomist is but this is their Instagram, serving as a educational guide.

Podcast corner

Psychobiotics is an episode of always interesting Blindboy Podcast looking at the connection between food and our mental health. Particularly of interest is where they talk about fermented food, something Loaf is thinking of branching into alongside the bread. (It’s a podcast so there’s lots of chat before he gets to the subject!)

On the telly

We really enjoyed Cooked, a four-part series on Netflix where Michael Pollen looks at the four elements of food: Fire, Water, Air and Earth. The Air episode in particular looks at the humble loaf of bread and the miracle of its emergence from a pile of wheat. “Air is mostly what you’re eating when you eat bread.”

Home improvement dept

Thatching & Thatch is a glorious deep-dive into the noble art of roofing your house with the bits of wheat you can’t make bread from. If you’ve ever wondered how a thatched roof works, or fancied having a go yourself, this delightfully handmade website has all the information you’ll ever need.

Policy podium

We are the re-builders – With the end of the pandemic hopefully in sight, there’s a lot of talk around “building back better”. Do we go back to the systems and ideologies of the last 40 years or do we use this relatively clean slate to try something else? As a worker co-operative we know co-ops are a great way to build sustainability and resilience into the economy, but do the our elected decision-makers know? This document from Co-ops UK makes the case in clear, policy-friendly language.

Bagel deep-dive

Everything you ever wanted to know about bagels is in this Twitter thread where you’ll learn to “make the kind of bagels that were brought by Polish Ashkenazi Jews as they emigrated to the United States in the late 19th century” and a whole lot of history along the way. We dabbled in bagels pre-pandemic and are keen to try them again!

How TAWS brought Brum Together

Since the pandemic started, Loaf has been baking for food banks and primary schools, helping people who’ve fallen into food poverty. Some, such as the Trussell Trust food bank network, have been operating throughout the age of austerity. Others have sprung up to address a newly urgent need. 

Prior to the pandemic The Active Wellbeing Society (TAWS) had little to do with food banks. They’re a co-operative funded by Sport England and Birmingham City Council, working in areas of high deprivation to tackle inequality and promote community wellbeing. With many of their programmes shut down or limited to phone and internet services, they revisited their values to see what they could best do.

As often happens in an emergency, there was a strong desire to help. At Loaf we briefly considered establishing a Stirchley food bank before realising we were better positioned to supply those who actually knew how to run one. We also fielded countless offers of help from individuals keen to give their newfound free time and maybe salve the sense of helplessness that was rampant last spring. 

TAWS’ immediate response was to set up a WhatsApp group of their peers and make everyone an admin so they could add more people. With the support of a city council stretched to its limits and fuelled by a sense of “if not us, who?”, a plan started to emerge. 

Under the banner BrumTogether, a food distribution hub was established at Ladywood Community Centre which it rapidly outgrew, moving to and filling the cavernous Aston University Students Union building. Meals were prepared at the Aston Villa ground kitchens with ingredients sourced from supermarket surpluses. Food parcels were collected in bulk by small-scale community organisations which knew where they needed and these were then distributed by a vast army of volunteers. 

Alongside the immediate need for food, other important services were provided. TAWS set up a befriending service for those experiencing isolation and loneliness, and used their contacts with GPs to identify people in need of help.
The skills and resources were out there. All that was needed was co-ordination, which TAWS were able to supply. The BrumTogether network looked like a top-down, blanket approach – it was anything but. By responding directly to needs and empowering people rather than leading, the network remained agile in an ever-changing emergency, catching people who fell through the gaps of the broad-strokes national strategies. 

You can read more about what BrumTogether achieved in this end-of-year reflection.

As you might imagine, the experience of being part of BrumTogether has been transformative for TAWS, but they feel they’ve never lost sight of their mission. The means of delivery might have changed, but the core aim didn’t: meeting communities where they are and working with them to design the solutions they need. 

BrumTogether is now the Birmingham Food Justice Network. Supported by TAWS with 70 active member organisations and many more waiting in the wings, it seeks to learn lessons from the pandemic to build a better future. Food parcels are a temporary approach to an emergency. They should not be normalised. What’s needed is long-term sustainability and systemic change to ensure no one in this city goes hungry. National campaigns and initiatives are good, but lasting change needs to be built from the ground up. 

The network is made up of many different organisations with many different structures, but the whole thing feels like a co-operative with no one group taking control. The way TAWS have co-ordinated the network means the co-op values and principles infuse the network. Or maybe they just make sense. It’ll be interesting to see if and how they filter through to the member organisations. 

TAWS are up for Inspiring Co-op of the Year which feels very apt. They used the toolkit of the co-operative movement to build a dizzyingly vast democratic network with no leaders which was able to respond to needs at a micro-local level. If that’s not inspiring, we don’t know what is. 

Thanks to Beccy from TAWS for her time answering our questions. You can find out more about their work at theaws.co.uk

Introducing RSVP

This week we have a guest post from Sarah at RSVP, our charity for this quarter, explaining what they do and how your donations are being used.

The Rape and Sexual Violence Project is an award-winning organisation, providing holistic services for people in Birmingham and Solihull who have been subjected to sexual violence, including rape, child sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking. We work with children and adult survivors of sexual violence to cope with trauma and enjoy a hopeful and confident future. 

We are a trauma-informed organisation, which means we don’t label or pathologise people. Instead of asking ‘what’s wrong with you?’ we ask ‘what happened to you?’ We stand with survivors, and challenge victim-blaming. 

Survivors are at the heart of what we do and have been since we were established in 1978. From the beginning, we’ve provided person-centred support, based on the Social/Trauma Model developed by Sally Plumb. This is one of the early trauma-informed approaches and makes connections between traumatic, abusive experiences of childhood and emotional distress in adult life, without labels and diagnostic criteria.

We now support thousands of people a year through counselling, advocacy, a helpline and webchat, group support and via specialist services for refugee/asylum seekers, sex workers, Chinese women and LGBTQI survivors. We also provide lots of self-help resources on our website for anyone to access. 

Our online training programme for practitioners offers affordable, bitesize sessions on the impact of sexual violence, including dedicated sessions of child sexual abuse, intersectionality and supporting male survivors. 

All our services to the public are free and so we really rely on the generous support of grants and donations. Huge thanks goes to Loaf for boldly showing their support and belief in survivors of sexual violence.


You can find out much more about RSVP’s work in their (very readable) annual report detailing the numbers they’ve helped and their plans to move through the pandemic. Download the PDF here.

In the past, Loaf has worked with RSVP, using our bakery class as a setting for group therapy, and we are keen to develop this further in the future. 

You can make a donation with your online pre-order or add it to your purchases in store. And of course you can gift directly.

Social Enterprise Drive video

As well as being a worker co-operative, Loaf is a registered social enterprise (indeed most co-ops are by definition social enterprises in the UK), so we weren’t surprised to be included in this video for the Social Enterprise Drive 2021. Follow Lizzie from i-SE as she explores the green spaces in Birmingham along the cycle network and the social enterprises you can find there.    

New Oven News!

While the installation wasn’t quite as smooth as we’d planned, eight days from delivery to activation is not too bad for a major upgrade to our bakery during a pandemic. The oven was switched on on Wednesday and we did our first bake on Thursday, testing out each product in our range. 

And it all came out perfectly, first time!

Faced with piles of perfect bread we quickly rustled up a table in the doorway and gave it away to passers-by, asking for an optional donation to RSVP, our charity this quarter. After a couple of hours it had all gone and we’d raised £110. Thanks everyone! 

Baking for actual customers on Friday morning was, to quote Rachel, “a dream” and we’re looking forward to pushing this shiny new beast to its limits. 

One entertaining feature: it has glass doors and internal lights, which means we can make time-lapse movies of our bread being baked. 

Here’s a 40-minute bake of white sourdough from dough to loaves in 40 seconds. Expect more of this, and if you have any time-lapse requests (croissants should be amazing!), let us know. 

Look at this sandwich!

People often post pictures of our bread and cakes to the socials, which is always a pleasure, but this edifice of awesome caught our attention this week. 

Adam Andrew Hayes posted this to his Twitter: 

Golly.