Better Health Bakery: The Social Enterprise where GBBO Winner David Atherton Volunteers

With the end of the Great British Bake Off leaving a void in our week, we chatted to Better Health Bakery – a team whose previous volunteers include #GBBO winner David Atherton – to get our fix of dough-related discussion points and find out about the social enterprise’s inspiring work.

Better Health Bakery serves up delicious danishes, cakes and cookies as well as its signature sourdoughs from the café and shop in East London. With lunch on offer on weekdays from 12pm, and pizza Fridays proving a roaring success with regulars, this social enterprise is going from strength to strength in pleasing its local community and with this year’s Great British Bake Off winner David Atherton among the team’s list of previous volunteers, we had to find out a bit more about the team and what’s in store… Lisa Donohue gave us the low-down.

How did Better Health Bakery begin?

Better Health Bakery is a social enterprise bakery based in Haggerston, East London. We are part of The Centre for Better Health, a long standing Hackney-based mental health charity which aims to support wellbeing and recovery from mental ill-health. The bakery came to fruition six years ago as part of this mission. As a social enterprise it offers trainee placements to adults who have been distanced from employment due to mental ill-health.

What’s the impact been so far?

31 trainees enrolled on our programme in 2018/19, with 18 completing their placements and successfully moving on to other opportunities. 100% of trainees that completed their placements reported an improvement in one or more of the following skill outcomes; job skills, motivation, routine, confidence and social skills. Six trainees have moved on to further training or eduction, seven to volunteering and five to employment.

What challenges have you overcome since you began? 

The Better Health Bakery has continued to evolve with expansion across the pastry section and café. The pastry offering has become more consistent as we develop training for our staff and we’ve been able to produce more with improved processes and staffing levels. Seasonal products have gone down well this year with increased sales of mince pies and hot cross buns, for example.

Our retail space has become busier, particularly around our freshly made lunches including salads, soups and pizza. We take pride in offering good quality products to our customers with friendly service. With extended opening hours to Sunday, we now offer freshly baked bread six days a week. We also have a market stall at Stoke Newington Farmers’ Market on Saturdays and wholesale customers that include delis, restaurants and shops in Hackney and neighbouring boroughs.

Over the course of this year we have gradually transitioned most of our deliveries to a cargo bike delivery service, drastically reducing our delivery-related emissions across Hackney.

What achievements or milestones are you most proud of as a team since you began?

Our organic growth! Where we’ve recruited new people to support the aims of the charity we’ve been able to increase the number of trainees and volunteers we can take through the bakery. In 2019/20 we should be looking at doubling the 2018/19 figures, which feels like a huge achievement – not only for the organisation and the individuals who work here but also for those who benefit from our services.

#GBBO seems to have re-ignited a passion and interest in traditional baking techniques across the UK and beyond – has the bakery witnessed this?

We are very lucky to be closely associated with GBBO in that one of our ex-volunteers David Atherton is a contestant on this year’s show! David has agreed to come back and do a shift with us here in the bakery to help promote our services – great result! Follow the story on Instagram.

What are the benefits of buying fresh loaves compared to supermarket alternatives?

We specialise in ‘Real Bread’, long-fermented sourdough made with nothing other than flour, sourdough starter, water and salt – so unlike supermarket alternatives our bread doesn’t contain additives or preservatives, or any artificial colourings or flavourings. Real Bread is made with simple, natural ingredients, proven over many centuries to be a beneficial part of the human diet. 

What are the benefits of baking for individuals and communities?

The Better Health Bakery produces good quality, handmade bread for the local community including cafés and restaurants. Baking artisan bread is both a labour intensive and therapeutic process. It is a craft and skill that our trainees learn and hone. It is also rewarding and gives a sense of achievement. There are practical and technical skills developed, leading to possible employment routes in baking and catering. This may also lead to other training opportunities for the trainee after their placement ends. The bakery is a busy, supportive and dynamic environment with a team ethos.

Check out some of our favourite community cafés across the UK

Try baking these zero waste peanut butter vegan cookies or, for something festive, a gluten and dairy-free mince pie.