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Ambassador profile: Marcia Harris

The north London based baking teacher reveals the roots of her focus on family and community.

Marcia Harris. Copyright: Markus Drayss

Marcia Harris. Copyright: Markus Drayss

My first Real Bread moment was in my grandmother’s kitchen. I watched my cousin bake a loaf of bread from scratch, which he then covered in honey whilst still warm from the oven. This memory also sticks with me because, as a chef and all-round free thinker, he was ‘cool’. Memories of baking like these are why communal baking experiences have always held a place in my heart, drawing me back to that place and time.

Food and community

My grandma passed away in 2015 and for a time all my fears and indecision seemed to disappear. There is nothing like death to remind you to live. I finished my university degree and resigned the job I was growing to hate, with no real plan of what to do next. Six months later, I was volunteering for the charities Homestart and the NSPCC, as well as working a few days a week as a chef in the café of a Buddhist centre. More importantly than the change of jobs, I had changed my environment. I was now sharing space with likeminded people who cared deeply about food and community. I began to experiment, doing more of the things I loved.

One of the wonderful people I met during this time was John Townshend, who now runs Loco Loaf in Hayling Island. Back then, he was Kennington Bakery, singlehandedly baking Real Bread and delivering it locally on his bike. I heard that John needed help and he taught me so much about naturally leavened bread. He also taught me so much about patience and being a good teacher.

Baking with children

During this time, I became more confident and began setting up small community projects. I was working with great people and organisations, designing and delivering my own bread making sessions. The highlights of my last decade have been informed so much by the work of the Real Bread Campaign and Sustain in general. They’ve always been in the background, encouraging me along through articles and job advertisements, provoking me to do and eat better. It was an ad on Sustain’s Roots to Work jobs website that led to several years freelancing, helping to deliver Lessons in Loaf London and gardening workshops for Grow Your Own Playground. Over the years I was able to help hundreds of children, create their own first memories of baking bread, so important in my own childhood.

Shared bread moments

I am convinced that there are therapeutic benefits to baking bread, especially communally. There are the pauses whilst dough proves, allowing space to talk and share. Basic bread techniques can be taught easily and tend to defy most social and economic barriers. The ingredients are cheap and everything in a workshop can be easily adjusted to take into account age and ability. Best of all, we can teach each other. We just need to be open and receptive, and communities need shared space for this to happen.  Working with children and families has taught me the importance of collaboration and inclusion. I want to be a part of the campaign working more closely with London’s diverse communities, helping to make more shared bread moments happen.

Bread is the thread that has pulled me along, towards the work I love. Right now, baking and gardening still inform my work in school, helping children to explore and develop their social skills, friendships, and emotional regulation through practical sessions. The school I work at truly prioritises wellbeing as the basis for being able to access the wider curriculum.

As I write this text, I am excitedly planning my Lessons in Loaf for Real Bread Week, where I hope to create a whole new generation of Real Bread Buddies. Now in my late 40s, it feels like the right moment to be an ambassador for the Real Bread Campaign.

Originally published in True Loaf magazine issue 50, April 2022

Published Monday 4 April 2022

Real Bread Campaign: The Real Bread Campaign finds and shares ways to make bread better for us, better for our communities and better for the planet. Whether your interest is local food, community-focussed small enterprises, honest labelling, therapeutic baking, or simply tasty toast, everyone is invited to become a Campaign supporter.

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