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. 

Wildfarmed Grain Armada

This week Phil has been on furlough and has been experimenting with a heritage grain of eyebrow-raising provenance. 

Readers of a certain vintage will remember pre-millennial electronic music duo Groove Armada. Andy Cato, of said duo, bought a farm in France, as semi-retired rockers are wont to do.

He was gifted a handful of heritage long-straw grain by a retired baker. Unlike the shorter varieties we’ve become used to, grown alone in vast monocultured fields, this grain is sowed directly into grass pastures where animals are allowed to graze. 

This is a ‘population wheat’, meaning there is a huge mix of different grain all grown in one field. Rather than picking through and selecting the ‘right’ grain, all is harvested and resown, letting nature determine which grain varieties grow best in that environment. This variety is the key to sustainability and also creates interesting complexities in the flour. 

Andy is now a full–time farmer with a sideline in electronic beats, and is growing his grain in farms across the UK, stonemilling the flour and selling to bakeries to “take back control of our food supply in a way that reconsiders the relationship between humankind and nature.” 

Read more about Wildfarmed Grain on their website.

Phil’s First Bake with Wildfarmed grain

Wildfarmed Grain is available in wholemeal and different sifted grades, according to the French type system, where different amounts of the bran are removed. 

I made a loaf using wholemeal and two of the more sifted varieties. This combination created something similar to our wholemeal sourdough, very flavourful from the wholemeal flour, but kept light with the addition of the sifted flours. 

It was strong and elastic to work with, and had a good oven spring. The loaf has a really nutty flavour and caramelised dark crust, very nice with lots of butter and honey!

Why we’re interested in this

Heritage grains and wild farm methods are interesting and fun to work with, but they’re much more than a hobbyist or gourmet pursuit. They fit in with a number of Loaf’s key aims. 

Firstly, they’re healthier and easier to digest than industrially processed flour, so that’s a no-brainer. 

Secondly, they’re better for the environment. Wild farming is no-till, so the microbiome of the earth is allowed to develop and mature, holding CO2 and water in the ground, and allowing the soil to live. 

Thirdly, they have the potential to create a sustainable economy of farmers, millers and bakers producing affordable bread for a mass audience. We’re encouraged by Andy’s desire to create not just healthy bread but healthy working conditions and healthier communities. 

We’ve sourced a supplier and plan to bring these grains to Loaf later in the year, both for our bakery and to sell in the shop, so look out for them. And if you have any experience or stories about heritage grains, please do get in touch. 

Three podcasts

This week we’re recommending three podcasts that we’ve enjoyed and been inspired by over the winter.  

Farmarama is a podcast dedicated to regenerative farming which they define as “taking a more ecological approach, observing the natural ecosystems on a particular plot of land and working with them in a way that recognises the place of people within nature, not outside it.”

Their 2019 six-part series Cereal is incredibly inspiring and eye-opening, examining the industrialisation of bread making over the 20th century and subsequent reduction in quality. It also highlights the great efforts of small scale farmers and bakers to resist this trend and revive long forgotten grains and bring back quality healthy bread.

Since listening to and being inspired by the stories in the podcast we’ve started connecting with local farmers and millers and have been baking with a number of heritage grains. The results have been very pleasing and we plan to offer them for sale in the near future, ensuring Loaf is fully engaged with the local grain economy. 

Slow Rise: A Bread-Making Adventure came recommended by Sian, one of our regular customers. It’s a classic Radio 4 book reading by a proper theatre actor – warm and cosy, like listening to a kindly grandfather in a potting shed. 

Robert Penn embodies a self-effacing curiosity about how fundamental things work, and here decides to grow wheat from seed to make his own bread, along the way researching the history of bread-making from the dawn of civilisation to the industrial processes of today and meeting with breadmakers across the world. Best of all, it’s in 15 minute sections, perfect for a brief stroll or while kneading your dough. Lovely stuff.

(His previous books are about wood carving and cycling, so he’s evidently doing a tour of Stirchley High Street. Expect the next to be on fudge or plumbing.)

We talk about Loaf being a “workers cooperative”, but what does that mean? This two-parter from Upstream is a great introduction to the concept, why it appeals and how it works, socially, economically and politically. It manages to balance the invigorating rabble-rousing theories of the likes of Richard Wolff with sober analysis and case studies of actual co-ops on the ground. Entertaining and inspiring and highly recommended.

Future Stirchley: A Street of Opportunity

Last month we were invited to take part in a film about how Stirchley high street has dealt with the pandemic lockdowns. Alongside clips of the people who live and work here, the film sees a Birmingham poet synthesise the hours of interviews into a spoken word piece. It’s a lovely piece of work produced in record time by Geoff of the Living Memory Project.

If something seems strangely familiar about the style, you’re not wrong. In 2012 Geoff made To Be Home, another film about Stirchley. Fascinating to see what’s changed, and what hasn’t.

Happy International Women’s Day

It’s nicely thematic that International Women’s Day follows so closely on from Real Bread Week. One of the early IWDs, in March 1917, saw a women’s march for “Bread and Peace” in Petrograd, then the capital of the Russian empire. 
They were protesting food shortages and demanding the end of WW1. The march was joined by striking female textile workers who swelled their numbers to take over the streets, forcing the Tsar to abdicate and kick starting the Russian Revolution

The revolution, as any A-level history student will tell you, had many causes, but it’s not a surprise to see bread and righteously angry women right there at the start. 

At Loaf we see bread as symbolic of something more than the making of a nice sandwich. The domestication of wheat for bread tracks with the emergence of western civilisation 9,000 years ago, following the twists and turns of our societies through to the present day. 

Bread is both a symbolic and literal representation of the need to be well fed, and where there are battles for equality, bread will often be found. Indeed, the tension between exclusive “artisanal baking” and affordable healthy additive-free bread within the baking community is perhaps an indicator for the broader state of food provision here in Britain. (We err towards the latter, in case that’s not obvious!) 

The other aspect of Loaf is our status as a workers cooperative. Nancy wrote about how this related to IWD a few years back, and the cooperative movement has always had women’s equality and empowerment at its core. The history of the Co-operatives Women’s Guild, formed in 1883, is particularly eye-opening, seeing them involved in campaigns for rights we now take for granted. 

So, happy International Women’s Day! May it be a reminder of both how far we’ve come and, in these strange times, how far we have to go. 

Four inspirational bakeries for IWD

There are many ways to run a bakery. Here are four with a mission to support women.. 

The Good Loaf in Northamptonshire works to “provide real employment opportunities to vulnerable local women so that we can break the cycle of poverty, unemployment and offending”.

Luminary bakery in London “work holistically with women, offering a safe space to train, trauma-informed support as they overcome barriers from lack of opportunity, preparation for employment, and guidance in building towards a positive future.”

Hot Bread Kitchen in “aim to create economic mobility for individuals impacted by gender, racial, social, and/or economic inequality in New York City, historically using the vibrant potential of the food industry as a pathway forward.”

Yangon Bakehouse works to empower women in the Myanmar. “By providing our apprentices opportunities to gain life and work skills, they gain dignity and confidence to move into the workforce as employees and small business owners.”

What is Real Bread Week?

Loaf is proud to be a member of the Real Bread Campaign which mirrors many of our aims and objectives as a community bakery. This week is Real Bread Week where bakeries and bakers of all scales celebrate and promote the benefits of good bread.

The campaign is broadly split into two areas. The first is that a healthy society needs healthy bread. The legacy of post-war industrial baking processes, when grain quality was low and needs were high, means most commercial bread is made with additives to shorten production times. It is then supplemented with artificial nutrients to compensate for those lost in the process. What should have been an emergency stop-gap measure has become an unnecessary and less healthy industry standard.

Real bread should not be a luxury, artisanal product (though there’s nothing wrong with a fancy loaf). It should be affordable and everywhere. At Loaf we’re proud of our Stirchley loaf, a healthy, tasty and simple bread that we keep affordable.

The other side to the campaign is to create a sustainable ecosystem comprising bakers and bread-eaters working towards the campaign’s aims. When Tom started Loaf a decade ago, one of his aims was to encourage more bakeries on more high streets. Since then we’ve seen much more competition emerge around Birmingham, which is great! We want to see a Loaf-style bakery on every high street and, pandemic aside, we’re always happy to offer help and advice.

Over the last year we haven’t been able to be as proactive in the Real Bread Campaign as we’d like, for obvious reasons. But being aligned with its ethos, and that of the co-operative movement, has certainly helped us to survive the pandemic thus far.

Real bread is nice and tasty, but it’s also important, and we should never forget that.

Winter Lockdown plan

Thank you for your patience over the last couple of weeks. We’re happy to announce we’ll be re-opening on Friday 5th and Saturday 6th of February and pre-orders are being taken online from today.

Under the current Covid restrictions, we will be trading as follows:

  • We will be open Friday afternoon 12 – 4pm and Saturday morning 9am – 1pm.
  • All orders must be placed online as click-and-collect.
  • The cut-off for orders is midnight Wednesday evening.
  • Orders are collected in 20 minute time slots, limited to 10 people per slot.
  • You must wear a mask covering your nose and mouth when visiting our shop. If you cannot wear a mask, you can leave a note when ordering so we can accommodate this.

Additionally:

  • We will not be baking substantially more than is ordered, so please order everything that you need in advance. There won’t be extra bread on the shelves for now.
  • Baking equipment, flour and other ingredients are available on click-and-collect.
  • Other shop items can be bought when you collect.
  • Lunches are on hold for now.

Within Loaf we will be operating as follows:

  • The bakers have split into two smaller teams working one fortnight on, one fortnight off. Should one team be unable to work, the other team can cover.
  • Val will be running the shop, distanced from the bakers.
  • Pete is working from home managing orders and answering your emails, ready to cover Val if needed.
  • We will all be tested regularly where possible.
  • FFP2 / N95 masks will be worn in the building and when serving customers.

We will review this at the start of each month, with the aim of resuming our normal service when we can.

As with any new system built on the fly in this pandemic, there will be teething troubles, so thanks in advance for your patience! If you have any problems or questions, please let us know. Pete is monitoring the email every day and will get back to you.

Why are we doing this?

This is possibly too much detail, but we’re all figuring this out as we go and it might be useful to other businesses.

The severity of the new coronavirus strain and the risk it poses to our health and our jobs caused us to take stock after Christmas. Last year we relied on our industrial air extraction, hygiene systems, and maintaining a “Loaf work bubble” to keep us safe. With an increased transmission risk, however, it’s clear we need to do more.

The Loaf building is effectively a maze of corridors. Establishing a Covid-secure workplace with our full complement of staff is next to impossible, so we needed to reduce the number of people in the building at one time. The new system sees a maximum of three people spread across different rooms.

A safer working environment reduces our capacity and impacts the business, so we’re able to use the government’s furlough scheme. This is much more flexible this lockdown, allowing for part-time and short-term furloughs. This means we can rota the furloughs as teams and should one team test positive, pull the other back in without affecting production.

We were also getting more and more concerned about the queue which reached ridiculous lengths before Christmas. While most of you have been distancing, the amount of time you’re standing there increases the risk of transmission, especially on a windless day, so we need to do what we can to reduce that. It’s also horrible standing out there in the winter!

When you place your order you can select a time slot to collect. Each 20-minute slot is limited to 10 customers so you shouldn’t have to wait too long with too many people. Obviously if you’re late we’ll still serve you, but if you can keep to your slot it will help keep everyone safe.

If all goes to plan we should come out of this with everyone employed and the business in the black, ready for whatever this pandemic throws at us next!

Loaf’s Christmas Newsletter

A Big Thank You from Loaf

As one of the more challenging years in recent memory draws to a close we wanted to take this opportunity to thank all our friends, customers and associates for your support. 

Despite temporarily losing our cookery school, the heart of Loaf, we are ending the year financially in the black and with a cautiously optimistic outlook for 2021. That is ultimately down to you all buying our bread, pastries and lunches throughout the year. You queued for hours in the rain, forgave us the glitches as we overhauled our business on the fly, and gave us the positive feedback we needed to keep going through some exhausting times. 

Some of you have let us know that our food has been a small highlight during some dark and troubling moments. Please know that it goes both ways, and knowing that what we do matters to people is priceless. We have always called Loaf a “community bakery” and this year has really shown us what that means, how we can support the community and how the community can support us.

Fighting food poverty

A big change for Loaf this year was actively supporting those charities and organisations at the frontline of helping people affected by the pandemic. Mostly this has involved baking extra bread for schools and foodbanks to distribute to those in need. We asked for your financial help to pay for ingredients, and when donations dwarfed our costs we passed the money on. We’ve raised over £6,000, which has gone to the B30 Foodbank and Anawim women’s refuge. Both have asked us to pass on their thanks.

We will continue to raise money for local charities, aiming to work with them in the long term once our cookery school reopens. We’ll choose our charity for the first quarter of 2021 in the new year and we always welcome suggestions of other organisations to support. 

Building the future

The pandemic threatened to overshadow some exciting news for the future of Loaf. In April we formally announced our plans to buy and develop land between the British Oak and Hunts Road, joining with the Bike Foundry, Artefact Projects and local housing coops as Stirchley Cooperative Development. We’ve spent this year working with council officers to meet planning criteria and will be going before the planning committee in the new year. If all goes smoothly (and we’ve learned that it seldom does, but fingers crossed!), we should be moving into a custom-built new bakery and cookery school in Autumn 2022. 

An important part of this process was getting comments from the public in support of our plans. The response exceeded everyone’s expectations, raising some eyebrows among those familiar with these things. Planning applications are not supposed to get that sort of feedback! So another big thanks from all of us.   

Okay 2021, we’re ready for you

This year has really brought home the value of being a workers cooperative. Our non-hierarchical structure means we have an equal and collective responsibility for Loaf, sharing the burdens alongside the rewards. Collective decision making also means the pressure has not been focused on one person, and we’ve been able to help and support each other in making some difficult decisions. Nine heads really are better than one, and we’ll be putting them together again in the new year. 

Our Christmas shutdown is for three weeks this year. After our standard fortnight holiday we’ll be spending this extra week taking stock and planning for what promises to be another challenging year. We want to be less reactive to events and be ready for whatever the year throws at us, whether it’s six months of lockdown or a vaccinated wonderland. 

We hope you have the best Christmas possible.

Nancy, Martha, Neil, Sarah, Molly, Phil, Rach, Pete & Val – Team Loaf

Loaf’s business plan for 2021

The furlough scheme allowed staff who couldn’t be viably employed to undertake training so, with generous support from Co-ops UK’s The Hive, three of us spent 8 weeks learning how to evaluate Loaf, set a full budget and write a new business plan for the Covid era.

Because we see our customers as more than simply a process of turning bread into wages, we wanted to share some of these plans with you, because we literally can’t do this without you!

In summary

Bread will always be in stock. If you come in five minutes to closing we will have something to sell you. 

More lunches for the home workers. Lunches are proving more popular and we’re looking to extend our range. 

More sweets and cakes. Plenty of new goodies are coming out of the bakery and we’re developing a range of vegan cakes. 

Chances to be involved in building the future of Loaf!It takes a village, etc!

In a bit more detail

It’s become very clear that it’s not going to be possible to safely run our cookery school to the high standards we and you demand during this pandemic. But teaching skills is a core part of Loaf and we are determined to bring it back when we’re able.

In the spring, assuming restrictions allow, we plan to run small classes aimed at clearing existing bookings and vouchers* and for single households. The, over the summer, we will start researching and developing new courses and new ways to teach. Some of this will involve trial classes will small groups which we will invite you to help us with.

The plan is that when we move into the new building in 2022 Loaf’s cookery school will be bigger and better than ever!

* And a huge thanks to those who have been able to be patient – we are so appreciative!

Because the cookery school won’t be bringing in significant income next year we need to significantly increase bakery turnover.

Since September we have been baking more, so that whenever someone comes into the shop they can get a load of bread. In the New Year we will be purchasing a new oven, something we weren’t intending to do until we moved into the new building. This will increase our production by about a third, as well as insuring us against breakdowns.

Significantly more bread is great, but we also need significantly more customers. Having a very loyal customer base is fantastic and totally kept us alive through lockdown, but it has meant we haven’t actively gone out and told people about what we offer for a long time. Over the next few months we’ll be doing leaflet drops and developing our social media presences. As a business that grew through word of mouth this is a new area for us, one we’re embracing with cautious optimism.

Charity beings at Loaf

As you’ll know, we’ve had a donation button on our online ordering page for a while now. From mid August to the end of October we raised £980, meaning so far this year we’ve raised nearly £5,000. Which is fantastic given we never tried anything like this before. We’d like to build on it.The new business plan isn’t just about earning money. As a workers co-operative we are guided by the Co-operative Values and Principles which include “concern for the community”, looking beyond our doors and seeing how we can help the society that supports us. We’re also always been called a community bakery and were already keen to explore and develop what that might mean.

We want to build connections beyond our customers and peers, with the intention of bringing baking and cookery skills to a wider range of people who might not be able to afford, or even consider, our classes. To this end we’re going to support a new charity every quarter, passing on your donations to help with their work during the pandemic and drawing attention to them in-store and online. Then when we’re able to do so, we will look to working with them more practically.

Our first charity, which we’ll be supporting through to the end of the year, is Anawim, the Birmingham centre for women in need of help based in Balsall Heath. Incidences of domestic abuse rose dramatically under lockdown and Covid-19 has impacted disadvantaged members of society the most, from mental health to food poverty. Anawim are one of many organisations working at the front line in trying circumstances and we’re proud to be helping them into the winter months.

We are looking for charities and organisations to support from January with an emphasis on those making a local impact on people’s lives who need help during the pandemic. If you would like to suggest, or work for, a potential good fit, please get in touch.

Alongside this we’re continuing give fresh bread to organisations combatting food poverty. Every week we do a special bake for the Big Feed Project who are providing free meals to anyone in need across Birmingham. And over the Autumn we’ve regularly given our unsold bread to the B30 Food Bank and Incredible Surplus (the new name for the Real Junk Food Project) and are on call for the Solidarity Kitchen when required. Should other orgs or schools require bread over the winter we feel we should be able to meet the demand.

Loaf customers donate £3750 to B30 Food Bank

When the pandemic hit and lockdown was ordered, we at Loaf were very aware that, as a workers co-operative, we have a responsibility to our community as much as ourselves. Once we had ensured our business could ride out lockdown we looked into ways we could support those groups and organisations working to combat food poverty.

The simplest solution was to proactively bake more bread, and Loaf’s bakers volunteered their time to run a special bake shift on Mondays. Over lockdown we supplied bread to B30 Food Bank, BrumTogether, Birmingham Solidarity Kitchen, the Spearhead Trust, and the primary schools in our community who were helping feed families in need.

Given we couldn’t be sure how the pandemic would affect Loaf’s income, we placed a donation button on our online shop, inviting our customers to help. The idea being we provide the labour and they cover the cost of flour and electricity for that shift.

Between May and August we distributed roughly 1,500 loaves to food poverty groups in Birmingham. But we also raised far more money than we needed, leaving a surplus of £3,750. We contacted the B30 Food Bank for advice on what to do with this money and they suggested a cash donation. Their costs have soared this year and a lump sum would really help.

As demand has lessened, Loaf have paused the volunteer bakes for now, though we still donate any unsold bread to the Food Bank. Food poverty remains something we want to help combat and we are actively looking for long-term ways to do so. Please get in touch with nancy@loafonline.co.uk if we can work with you.  

Bakery shop collections and deliveries from June 18th

As the country cautiously pokes it toe into the concept of a post-lockdown reality, with people returning to work and school, and with other shops reopening, we’re changing a few things at Loaf.

Extended opening hours!

Over the last couple of weeks requests for deliveries have reduced, and customers who have returned to work have told us they have trouble collecting during the day. We’re responding to this as follows.

We’re ceasing deliveries on Thursday and Fridays. This will enable us to make more products, reintroduce lunches, and open for longer hours.

From next week (Thurs 18th) we will be open from 12-6pm Thursday and Friday and 8.15-12pm on Saturday, giving you more time to collect your bread.

Because people are still shielding, we will keep offering free Saturday morning deliveries within a mile radius of Loaf for those unable to get to the shop. 

Please continue to place your bread orders online for collection. This means you can come at any time, avoiding a long queue at opening. Ordering through the online shop re-opens every Saturday afternoon and is the best way to secure your weekly bread. 

Lunches are back!

With more people back on Stirchley high street we’re being asked for lunches again. And so lunches we will provide!  

  • Sausage and veggie rolls – Thur-Sat from opening.
  • Tarka daal curry – Thursday from 12pm.
  • Pizza – Fridays from 12pm.

 Lunches are only available from the shop and are not available for pre-order or delivery.

Croissants every day!

We’re bringing back weekday pastries so we can offer croissants on Thursday and Friday as well as Saturday.

Bread donations raise £2,500!

Last month we added a donation button to our online shop. So far you have donated £2,500 towards us supplying food banks, schools and other local organisations with bread to alleviate food poverty. This is amazing and beyond our expectations. We will be working out our costs soon, so we can donate any surplus to where it’s needed. And we intend to continue running this programme for the foreseeable future. Thank you!

If you’re looking for more practical ways to help those in need of food during this crisis we can recommend contacting the Active Wellbeing Society who have successfully rejigged their organisation into a massive food collection and distribution network. They always need volunteers, especially for deliveries.

Thanks for your continued support and custom. We hope you are safe and well in this difficult time.