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Together in bread and song

In summer 2021, microbaker Lawrence Leason cooked up a project with musician Harriette Ashcroft.

Copyright: Hackney Bread Kitchen

Copyright: Hackney Bread Kitchen

“I’ve had this idea,” I heard Harriette say through the speakerphone, as I rushed between dough folds, loaf shaping, washing up, levain-refreshing and myriad other microbakery activities. “Bread-making and singing,” she continued.

Harriette was a recent alumna of something I never thought I’d do – a live, online sourdough class, which I ran on Zoom during the second Covid lockdown. It’s surprising how much you can pick up over a video call and straight away I could tell that Harriette had the bread making knack. She is also a talented musician, songwriter and creator of Mrs H and The Singalong Band, who have been joyfully entertaining children and their carers for over a decade.

Garden leaven

For a number of years, Culpeper Community Garden in north London has been hosting a choir for neuro-divergent people. Every Thursday, members meet and build relationships, with Harriette gently leading the song-filled evening. I listened as Harriette explained her idea of running a bread and song weekend in the garden with the group. The process would unfold over three days, from levain refreshment on a Friday evening to pulling the loaves out of the oven to enjoy together on a Sunday. In between mixing and folding, we would sing familiar songs, learn new ones and create plenty of opportunity for participants to talk about positive experiences.

Early one June morning, I wheeled my Rofco oven from Hackney Bread Kitchen to the garden and, over the course of a warm weekend, we kneaded, baked and sang. After many months of isolation, it was the first communal activity many of the group had had and the benefits to everyone’s mental and physical health were obvious. “When I feel the flour between my fingers, it makes me feel calm,” said one participant. Another said: “working all together, I just seem to mellow and melt.” Nicholas has been proudly making great sourdough bread every week since.

Guardian angel

After the success of that pilot weekend, we successfully applied for funding from the Emergence Foundation, a charity that supports projects that promote positive change in the world. Our plan was to run a baking and singing festival on six weekends over the course of a year. We named the project Companion from the Old French ‘compaignon’ (and, ultimately, the Latin ‘cum panis’) meaning ‘with bread’ and denoting someone with whom you share it.

The summer heat in the garden had suited the dough well, but in the cool, grey light of March 2022, we realised that outdoor baking was going to be more challenging. Our saviour came in the form of Angel Central in Islington. Over the winter, the owners of the shopping centre had invited the choir to use an empty shop for their meetings and allowed us to do the same. It turned out to be perfect, with more facilities and a place that we could store our newly-purchased Tom Chandley Pico+ Artisan oven, along with a stack of our specially-commissioned Companion ingredient measuring scoops.


We strive to maintain the choir’s wonderfully supportive atmosphere, encouraging a collective dynamic, rather than leading too much from the top. With each festival, our community of bread makers has grown. We have welcomed between ten and twenty participants each weekend. Some have attended before and support the newcomers.

We’ve also ventured beyond N1. On a very hot day this July, we visited the beautifully-restored Wilton Windmill in Wiltshire, singing our songs in the shade of its nineteenth century sails.

On the Sunday afternoon we sit down for lunch in the Culpepper Garden, sharing our bread with anyone who drops by. Along with singing, it’s a great way of helping to break down some of the barriers that exist between people who have been marginalised and wider society.

So that each baker can continue making bread at home, we send them home with a kit, including one of our scoops, which is marked with measurements for the flour and water, eliminating the need for scales.

Bread songs

Like bread making, the other key ingredient of our festivals has that balance of activity and receptivity. Harriette has been digging out songs about, or that somehow bring to mind, the journey from soil to loaf. Some come from rather unexpected sources, like The Miller’s Song by Sandra Kerr and John Faulkner from the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss.* We also write our own songs, like this one by Alison Graham and nine-year-old Phoenix:

I like to do things with my hands,
it is very freeing for me.
To help the day go by,
it was very healing for me.
On a day when I don’t know what to do,
when I do baking,
time just flies by too.

Next verses

At the time of writing, we’re due to be singing in September 2022 as part of the 24th annual London Harvest Festival, run by London City Farms & Community Gardens. We also have three more of our own festivals to run before the project is due to end in February 2023. Having made bread and been to a mill, we plan to visit a farm. After all, there’s a verse of that Bagpuss song waiting for us to sing…


March 2023: Singalong Songs CIC is still raising funds via Local Giving to continue to Companion project.

*We encourage more people to write articles that mention cult classic TV programmes. [ed.]

Originally published in True Loaf magazine issue 52, October 2022

Published Monday 20 March 2023

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