Mary Horbury is a member of the grassroots co-operative based in Chester city centre, which runs bread making activities with and for people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities.
The roots of Bread Together are drop-in sessions at the Wesley Church Centre for people of all ages to pop in and make bread with others. Our activities now also include bespoke workshops; specialist bread making workshops; outreach activities; one-off events and baking; outdoor baking; and a microbakery.
We began our public drop-in bread making sessions in 2010. Originally run once a week, after about five years, they became so popular that we now open our oven doors every Wednesday and Friday morning.
These sessions are open to everyone, with around 35 people working together each week, sharing skills and knowledge, enjoying Real Bread and conversation. People work alongside, and with, one another on an equal basis, with conversations opening up simply because the focus is on the bread, not on ourselves. It allows interactions and skill sharing to happen in ways that would be much harder without the bread.
Chris Duggan has been making bread with us for over two years. He says: “I was very apprehensive at first as I am totally blind. I had never made bread before, it was a new venture for me. I was very soon put at ease. As I gained confidence I started to make different types of bread. I never thought I would ever be involved in something so wonderful and enjoyable that gives me a purpose to look forward to each week.”
Another baker has said: “Bread making truly is the highlight of my week and one son or the other is always asking me if we are going this week. Actually I attend bread making much more for me than for my children. It is an opportunity for me to have some much needed adult conversation.”
Our public sessions are intergenerational, with young children working alongside adults of all ages. People around you could be in recovery from addiction, or living with disabilities or dealing with multiple disadvantage, but preconceptions fade as people become bakers helping each other to make bread. Bread making at the Wesley Café was set up to be label free, through simply providing an open and equal space for people to enjoy some time away from the everyday. Working in a public space is key. It means that anyone popping into the café can smell the bread, see us in action and even join in, if they like.
We also enjoy outings and activities. Last summer we made a clay oven from scratch using expertise from within our community, no power tools and everything (apart from the clay) reclaimed. We then were invited to use this at the Good Life Experience, an amazing festival where we shared bread from our oven and heard many stories from bread makers from all over the UK.
We have many regulars, as well as occasional and one-off bread makers, and have been able to harness our own enthusiasm and love for the drop-in sessions by setting up a co-operative. It has been a very long process during which we have had help from Co-operatives UK. Thinking up a name took a while. We decided on Bread Together because most people said what was great about our bread making was that it is something we do together.
The microbakery has taken the longest to set up, cost the most and has been the most complex, but we were delighted when it finally started for real in January 2020. For the up to five people who bake at it each time, there is a certain magic knowing that others are willing to pay for the bread they have made.
Pete Borowik (pictured), who survived a devastating motorcycle accident, joins in the community baking sessions and also helps at the microbakery. He says “we have a lot of laughs and fun. Also I can make something my own without anyone helping. It gives me purpose, independence and satisfaction, that I can make lovely bread.”
Connecting locally is crucial. The most important element in all of what we do has been having a huge bedrock of local support. The Wesley Church Centre initially came up with the idea of community bread making in central Chester and have continued to provide financial, practical and all sorts of other support. We love using the centre as our regular community bread making setting and feel completely at home there.
Other local support includes the Hawarden Estate, who allowed us to make that clay oven on their land, and a nearby supermarket donating the fresh yeast for our twice-weekly community baking. Local charities have funded us over the years, enabling us to buy equipment and develop our work. Our microbakery could not have come into being without us entering into a partnership with a local social enterprise, Vivo Care Choices, who allow us to use their kitchen space for our microbakery and support us in many other ways too. A grant from Cheshire West and Chester Council has enabled us to fund a project manager for the microbakery and other local grants have covered the costs of equipment. We have arranged for one of our bread collection points to be at Chester Cathedral.
One of our bread makers, Penny Scott who is 73, designed our logo, consulting us all and choosing to put our love of inclusivity into the design through the use of all sorts of colours. Everyone attending the twice-weekly community bread making sessions is encouraged to donate between £3 and £5 per session, covering the costs.
At a recent bespoke workshop, seven people made bread and pizza for the first time. At the end they said they were 'completely made up'. Happiness comes from immersing yourself in the multi-sensory world of bread making. We understand that at Bread Together.
You can find out more about Bread Together, including their twice-weekly community bread making sessions and how to buy their Real Bread at: www.breadtogether.org.uk