Companions Real Bread was set up a year ago this month and began trading in June of last year. The concept is simple. The micro bakery was set up to provide employment and work experience for prison leavers to help with reform and recovery. The brainchild of Maggie Rich, Companions aims to build a community around bread; and what amazing bread it is!
Maggie had been working with offenders at HMP Bedford as part of the Community Resettlement Support Project. She knew that despite prisoners’ best intentions, work opportunities for ex-offenders are hard to come by, even in the voluntary sector. “I’d always baked bread,” said Maggie. “Then I heard a radio programme about micro bakeries. I liked the Big Issue business model, so wondered if it could be applied to bread. People don’t need a magazine, but they do need bread.” Realising that she needed someone savvy alongside her to make the business work, Maggie approached Nigel Spencer, a support worker at the Prebend Day Centre, Befriender at HMP Bedford and former repeat offender. “Until 2009 I’d been in and out of prison,” explained Nigel. “I didn’t care about anything, but that changed when I reaffirmed my faith and with the birth of my daughter. I became a support figure in prison, dealing with new arrivals and vulnerable prisoners and I knew that’s what I wanted to do once I left.” Coming out of prison was hard, with few opportunities, something that Companions Real Bread is determined to change. “We work closely with as many different agencies as we can,” said Nigel. “Prebend, Reuse Centre, YMCA; plus we’re working with HMP Bedford on a future joint project… watch this space!”
Companions Real Bread began baking out of a unit in Kempston and selling at the gourmet market, plus delivering to Ampthill and Silsoe. “Over Christmas I heard that the Mill Street unit was available for pop ups,” said Maggie. “I knew this opportunity was too good to miss and we had to take a chance.” That chance has certainly paid off. “We wanted three things from the shop: to sell bread, to get referrals and to encourage volunteers,” said Maggie. “On our first day of trading we had all three – and we sold lots and lots of bread. It’s great being in such a visible location. People pop in to say hello and tell us what we’re doing is brilliant!”
The current baking capacity of Companions is 36 loaves a day, as that’s the number of proving tins they have. They have received funding from the House of Industry Trust which will allow them to increase their output. They are currently seeking alternative premises, as the Mill Street pop up is a temporary location. Their main requirement is three phase electrics, so if anyone has something suitable, please do get in touch. Bedford town centre would benefit greatly from permanent home for these inspirational, incredible Companions – and the bread’s pretty awesome too.
Companions Real Bread CIC on Facebook and on twitter: @companionsrealbreadcic
Unique Bedford: Companions Real Bread CIC, the Old Fire Station, Mill Street, Bedford