Loaf customers raised a total of £1,086.50 for Migrant Help in the last quarter of 2021, which is a fantastic sum. Thanks to all of you who were able to donate! The charity sent us the following to pass on:
Please extend our appreciation of support to all your customers. We are really overwhelmed by the generosity of the local community supporting local causes that affect us all locally and nationally.
This kind donation is going to help newly arrived asylum seekers living in initial accommodation who are feeling really isolated, and will go along way in supporting them and putting a lot of smiles on their faces.
We had our big planning meeting last week and working with Migrant Help again in the future is definitely on the cards. Watch this space!
Those of you that queue for your bread and lunches at opening time (and we are so grateful that you think us worthy of queueing!) will have noticed that the wood carving place on the corner has been replaced by a florist.
JoJo and Sean needed more space for their Pathcarvers workshops so they moved to the Old Printworks opposite the baths in Balsall Heath. Happily they still live in Stirchley and often pop in for a snack and a hello.
Their old workshop has been taken on by Hedge, which opened just before Christmas. Dorit is a big fan, often picking up spectacular arrangements on her break. She been chatting to Rachel who runs the place, along with designer and artist Rosie.
Hedge started in Harborne, moved to the Great Western Arcade and when that became a deadzone in lockdown, they found their new home in Stirchley.
Their approach to floristry is similar to our interest in heritage grains, seeking out local and sustainable farms who grow in their crops a biodiverse way. From their website:
We practise eco-friendly floristry and use blooms quite unlike those you find on the high street. When available we only use English garden flowers from small artisan micro farms in the Midlands, grown sustainably and gently.
Join us to help create change. Choose flowers that support biodiversity, that have been grown without chemicals, that have a low carbon footprint, are not wrapped in plastic, that are safe to compost and kinder to the world.
Dorit is a big fan of their flowers and cards. Over Christmas, she was unable to travel home to her family in Germany due to the Omicron outbreak and found herself stranded in Birmingham. Rachel’s flowers went a long way to cheering her up (and Stirchley’s German-speaking community rallied together on Christmas day).
As well as selling fresh flowers and bouquets, Hedge supplies events, runs workshops, and stocks soaps, textiles and an eclectic range of crafts from artists near and far.
Next time you’re in the queue, give them a smile and an wave, and if you’re into your flowers as much as your [ahem] flours, pop in and say hello!
If you live in or near Stirchley, you’ll doubtless be aware of Cotteridge Park, one of the many green gems of suburban Birmingham. But unlike most of our neighbourhood parks, Cotteridge is run by volunteers since being saved by local people from closure in 1997.
Friends of Cotteridge Park is the charitable organisation that runs all the activities and co-ordinates volunteer work at the park, including an annual festival and the new Shed cafe hub.
We asked them to write a bit about what they do:
The volunteers at Cotteridge Park are passionate about our little park in the heart of our community. The Friends of Cotteridge Park work tirelessly to improve the park’s infrastructure, and to provide services and activities that meet the needs of local people.
In any given week you’ll find Tai Chi, arts courses, youth workers, gardening, conservation and walking groups, and much more. The Shed opened in 2020 and is the hub for our activities and a friendly place to grab a cup of coffee too.
Oh, and then there’s CoCoMAD – the best little festival in Birmingham, where we celebrate Music, art, dance and science from our community and beyond.
In order to provide all this, and more, we are constantly fundraising. We have a principle that all our activities are free at the point of delivery so no one is excluded because they can’t afford to attend. This means we need donations to keep us going. We’re truly grateful for anything you can give to support our work.
And if you can give your time – even if it’s just an hour – you would be welcomed with open arms.
As well as being a primo baker, Rachel is a keen geocacher and last year combined her passions in the Loaf Advent Treasure Hunt. It was a tremendous success and so we had to bring it back.
Every day, starting this Wednesday, Rach will hide one of our bread vouchers somewhere near Loaf. It could be on the high street, along the canal, in a park… anywhere at all!
Clues will be posted to the Loaf Instagram stories and the hunt begins – first person to find the voucher gets a free loaf of bread!
But what is a bread voucher, I hear you ask? Can we acquire them without leaving the house? Perhaps in exchange for money?
Why yes! They’re available in packs of 6 and 12 with a couple of postcards and a sticker. They make perfect gifts for that Stirchley-based bread-curious relative or friend who is impossible to buy for. Pick them up in store or order online and we’ll post them out.
Each quarter Loaf raise money for a charity working in and around Birmingham. For October through December we’re working with Migrant Help, a national organisation with a strong presence here. We found out about them from a customer who volunteers with them at the hotels where migrants are often housed by the government, and we hope to host some group cooking sessions for their clients next year.
We asked Sameera Hussain, their community liaison coordinator, to explain a bit more about what they do and where your money will be going.
Migrant Help is a charity that exists to protect people affected by displacement and exploitation. We work with and for people who have been forced to flee their homes or been subject to slavery and trafficking, helping them to thrive as individuals and recover from their trauma.
Those seeking asylum in the UK can come to us to seek support as they navigate what can feel like a very challenging system. We work together with them to identify areas of concern and uncertainty, ensuring they can access the help and guidance needed to maximise their potential and thrive.
As part of the government’s resettlement schemes, we work alongside local authorities to assist Syrian and Afghan refugees. We holistically support the individuals and families, either as they await permanent accommodation or as they settle into their new communities. We help them access the necessary healthcare, language lessons, education, employment opportunities and community support.
We also provide specialist support and accommodation to victims of human trafficking and modern slavery, along with their dependents. Our dedicated teams provide safe accommodation, develop support plans and facilitate access to key services in order to empower clients as they recover from their experiences. Our aim is to reduce the risk of re-trafficking and help the survivors to move on to a positive new chapter in their lives.
We aim to support those most in need and least likely to find support elsewhere, amplify the voices of our clients, bridge community gaps and bring services together so no one is left alone when they most need someone to walk alongside them. Your donations enable us to do just that, whether it is providing warm coats during winter, running community-based sports activities or funding a mental health support worker.
We believe in the value of community, the importance of empathy and the power of every individual to make a difference to the lives of others.
We’ve been very impressed with what we’ve seen and heard of Migrant Help, and want to continue to support them beyond this quarter.
One project Sameera told me about is the setting up of schooling facilities for migrant children who find themselves moved around West Midlands schools a lot. This would give them some stability and specialist help alongside their normal schooling.
This will take a lot of work. The most useful thing is probably making contacts in the community of people who know people who can advise and provide services. Once Sameera is able to share the plans we’ll pass them on. Until then, if this sounds like something you’d like to be involved with, email firstname.lastname@example.org for the attention of Sameera Hussain.
Baskerville School in Harborne is a day and residential secondary school for students on the autism spectrum. It’s a great school with wonderful staff working with some amazing kids.
They got in touch with us earlier in the year about taking a student on work experience for a week or so. One of their goals is preparing their students for life after school, so getting experience of the wild and weird world of work is key.
Unfortunately we haven’t been able to take placements due to the pandemic. We plan to start again soon, but in the meanwhile were keen to get involved in whatever way we could.
We’ve been thinking a lot about how to make our cookery school more accessible, bringing our knowledge to more than just those who can afford it. We’ve also been thinking about how we can share what we know about the business of bread, from sourcing the grain to running a bakery. We’re always happy to pass on advice ad hoc but something more sustainable and long-term is the goal.
Since we opened we’ve had groups from Stirchley Primary School visit the bakery to make a big mess with dough – sorry, to learn how bread is made – and we’re looking forward to starting that again next year. We’re now thinking that this piece of “community engagement” could become part of our actual business, working with teachers to bring our classes into schools on a professional basis. We know we can do it – we just need a toe in the door.
So while we couldn’t take placements from Baskerville, we could bring the bakery to them for a morning. So last Thursday Martha took a sack of flour to Baskerville’s kitchen classroom for a four-hour workshop.
Martha started the session by talking about how bread is made from flour, yeast, salt, water and time. She also discussed how we manage making hundreds of loaves in a bakery by working as a team, from mixing the dough to selling to the customers.
They then had a go at mixing their own dough, savoury and sweet. A pizza was made from scratch along with bread rolls and cinnamon buns. One of the students was determined to master baguettes with amazing results.
And then, of course, they ate everything as a group – the best part of any cookery class!
Next Thursday the group will be visiting us for an hour to see what a busy bakery is like and what other jobs go on behind the scenes. And who knows, maybe one day you’ll be eating bread made by Baskerville alumni.
This is certainly something we intend to do again, both at Baskerville and at other schools in Birmingham. If you’re a teacher interested in Loaf visiting you, or know how we can best contact schools, please do get in touch.
While we got a warm glow and the sense of a job well done, this was incredibly valuable for the students. There’s only so much the Baskerville staff can do in the school environment. Short work placements, often for a week or so, help students develop an understanding of their potential place in a world that doesn’t always make sense to them.
Taking an autistic student placement can be a bit daunting for a business, especially if you have no experience with the neurodiverse, but Baskerville is a very supportive school and they’ll be with you all the way. And trust us, these are great kids.
Last week we received our crowdfunder copy of Knead to Know More, the microbakery handbook from the Real Bread Campaign. The first edition helped a number of small bakeries find their feet, including Loaf which was about to move from Tom’s kitchen to Stirchley High Street. This new edition has been totally updated with lessons learned.
While it looks like a cookery book, there’s actually very little about breadmaking inside. This is about the business of baking, from funding and equipment, to pricing and selling, to employing and accounting. A lot of this could be covered by a basic small business guide, but the value here is the specific inside knowledge.
Take Loaf, for example. As a bakery we occupy a strange middle-ground. We’re not an automated, mass-production bakery, but we do produce a lot of bread. Our bread, pastries and sweets are made by hand but the equipment we use alongside that, from the mixer to the fridges to the oven, is industrial grade. How did we know what to buy?
Some of our knowledge comes from hiring people who have worked in more traditionally commercial environments, or by going on a class where industrial equipment is used. But a lot of it is research, talking to friends and suppliers. This book reads like a brains-trust of people who’ve been there and are happy for you to learn from their experiences.
Knead to Know More is surprisingly comprehensive, covering everything from the building you bake in to the labelling of your bread. It was great to see a section on health and welfare covering manual handling and flour dust (‘baker’s lung’ is a real problem in our industry), but also sleep and mental health.
There’s also a decent chapter on Community Supported Baking, an alternative to traditional investment loans that anchor your business in the community it serves. This was how Loaf initially funded our move to the high street and it’s good to see the process formalised here.
Ultimately this is a level-headed book about sustainably growing a bakery business from a hobby into something valuable to yourself, your customers and your community.
If you’ve spent your lockdown accidentally creating a bakery business in your kitchen and are pondering the next step, this is a great place to start. Our copy is on the shelves in the cookery school and if you’d like to borrow it for an afternoon before buying your own, let us know.
It feels really good to be bringing back our classes. Loaf started as a cookery school with a bakery attached. So shutting down that part of the business really felt like losing our soul.
But it had to be done. Beyond the basic issues of running anything in the pandemic, our classes are a social occasion. You learn to make the food together and sit around a table to enjoy it together. The learning comes as much from the informal conversations as the course notes. We could have delivered the content distanced in masks or remotely but it would have been a pale shadow. So no half measures. Put it in hibernation ‘til it’s safe to do it properly again.
Of course we are still in a global pandemic. It is a confusing time in the UK. It seems like half the country has returned to normality while the other half is still terrified of touching door handles. In the absence of coherent government guidance we’re playing it safe and sticking with our lockdown procedures for the rest of the year. But we’ve also had time to think clearly about our building and how safe it is.
As a commercial kitchen environment we are blessed with industrial-level ventilation. The oven sits in the centre of the building with a large extractor which pulls air through all the rooms and out the roof. Similarly the cookery school has three big extractors over the hobs. We’re confident that the air is exchanged frequently even with the doors closed.
Similarly, while surface transmission is not as big a danger as originally thought, the nature of our business means we clean and sterilise everything we use as we go.
Combined with vaccinations and people wearing masks responsibly, we feel our cookery school is certainly safer than most places, both for us and for you.
Of course many will disagree, and that’s fine. It’s a confusing time. No one is right. But this is what we’ve decided to do.
We’ve gone through all the courses this summer and made some changes. Most are small improvements and iterations, but three are worth noting here.
Firstly, we’re sorry to say Steve Rossiter will no longer be teaching. He needs to focus on bringing his butchery business out of the pandemic and doesn’t have the time or capacity. As such our Pork Butchery and Charcuterie class is now Sausage and Charcuterie as Lap-fai Lee extends his half into an all-day sausage-making masterclass. If you enjoyed our German sausage takeaway last December, you’ll know how good he is. And now you can be too!
Secondly, the Japan course now just focuses on Sushi and has been renamed accordingly. Rather than survey a whole country in one evening, you’ll now master a range of sushi culminating in a delicious meal.
Finally, Heritage Grains was a brand new class that we barely had a chance to run before the pandemic. Over the last year we’ve learned a lot more and are on the cusp of working directly with small wheat farmers and mills. We want this course to reflect that so we’re taking a few months to refine it.
All vouchers that expired during the pandemic have been extended until the end of 2022. If you can’t find your voucher code, or don’t think you received one for a cancelled class, or if the website won’t accept it, please email us and we’ll make things right.
A new waiting list system
Our classes can get very popular and sell out quickly, which is a nice problem to have. We are working on long-term plans to increase capacity without reducing quality, but in the meanwhile we’ve overhauled our waiting list system.
Last month we trialled selling bags of coffee imported directly from a social enterprise project in Uganda. It was brought to our attention by Ben, a regular Loaf customer who had been ordering them for his friends and family.
Ben thought we might be interested in helping him scale up and they proved very popular, quickly selling out with great feedback. We ordered more and last week received a nice big delivery.
We asked Ben to write a short piece explaining how the project works and how he came to be involved. Over to you, Ben!
Growing the beans provides an income to local growers, including Batwa people who were displaced by the formation of the National Park. This means that they don’t have to encroach on the park to make a living. This helps conserve wildlife and to sustain the community. The Foundation also supports honey production, handicraft and ecotourism projects, and a ‘gorilla gardening’ programme where female gardeners work with children to create school food gardens.
I first met the Foundation’s founder, Happy Bruno, when we worked together on a project establishing community orchards in YMCA and Foyer sites around Birmingham. We kept in touch after the project ended and I began to arrange Bwindi honey and coffee orders for my friends. The response to this was very positive, but there is a limit to what can be done in this informal way. Working through Loaf will allow everyone to step up and hopefully provide a more regular income from the growers.
Meanwhile, a Halesowen-based charity, the Intouch Global Foundation, has agreed to support the ‘gorilla gardening’ project, and primary schools in Dudley, Bristol and Leeds have also come on board. It is great so see the next generation getting involved in this growing initiative.
Bwindi coffee is available as whole arabica beans in dark or medium roast. We’re selling the 500g bags for £18 each, comparable with local roasters.
For more on the work of Bwindi Conservation for Generations Foundation, visit bwindi.org.
As many of you know,Loaf beganin Tom and Jane Baker’s kitchen on Dell Road in 2009. They baked bread for the neighbours and taught the first breadmaking classes before moving into our high street bakery in 2012.
In 2016 Tom and Jane took parental leave which turned into a sabbatical as they travelled Europe’s bakeries and wheat farms looking for their next adventure. This led them to Machynlleth in Wales where they set upRye and Roses.
We’re often asked after Jane and Tom so we asked them to send us an update. Over to you, Bakers!
It’s so lovely to be sharing our news with you.
A lot has happened since 2009 when we founded Loaf in our house in Cotteridge. In 2018, we moved to mid-Wales to start a new adventure together with our son Reuben, surrounded by stunning countryside. After going travelling for eight months, we dreamt of having our own sourdough bakery and micro-homestead. And we’ve done just that.
Our new business, Rye and Roses (Rhyg a Rhosod in Welsh) is now thriving, supported by a fantastic community of customers, friends and neighbours. Tom specialises in baking sourdough bread and pastries. Jane grows ingredients for our bread, pastries and wood-fired pizzas.
We’re also lucky enough to be growing our own heritage wheat with friends, with the help of local farmers and Meirionnydd Vintage Club — old boys and their tractors. Wheat hasn’t been grown in this area for over 50 years. There’s enthusiasm for re-discovering old farming knowledge, and equipment and welcoming diverse farming back, one wheat field at a time.
Mid-Wales also has a strong Welsh culture, so as a family we are also proud to be learning Welsh — including Reuben (aged 5) who is taught in Welsh at school.
Trains go direct from Birmingham New Street to Machynlleth, so if you’re ever visiting the area, please come and say hello. You’ll find us at the historic Machynlleth Market on Wednesdays, and at our bakery on Fridays in the nearby village of Penegoes. Plus, there are some great places to holiday here – mountains, hills and seaside.
We’ve been looking for more local honey suppliers for years and at the recent Birmingham Beekeepers show at Winterbourne we struck liquid gold with not one but two apiaries!
Arden Forest Honey is a family-run business in the ancient forest of Arden with 40 hives pollinating wild flowers and local farms. We’re starting with their standard Wildflower honey but hope to expand the range if there’s demand.
Rea Valley Apiary could not be more local. Started and based in a back garden on Cartland Road, the business manages small colonies across south Birmingham. The current batch we have on sale is from the Stirchley hives, so if you have a garden locally there’s probably pollen from your flowers in this honey.
Both of them should be able to supply us with decent quantities over the year so along with Gareth’s honey we should always have the sticky sweet stuff in stock. 🐝